Manage effects of floods on your farm

Heavy rainstorms often destroy farmers’ houses . Photos/Michael J Ssali 

What you need to know:

  • During land preparation, consider creating runoff or sediment traps to reduce the likelihood of the farm flooding. This is done by creating channels that direct the water to a harvesting site or a nearby water source.

As a country, we have received plenty of rain since mid-last year and recent weather forecasts indicate that we are to receive even more rain in the next few weeks. 

The prolonged heavy rainy period has resulted in abundant harvests of crops like maize and coffee, but it has also led to rivers bursting their banks, washing away of bridges, and destruction of roads. 

Water volumes 
Water volumes have risen in our water bodies and people living close to them have had to abandon their homes which have been submerged by flood-water. Just a few days ago, floods killed four people including a child in Kasese District. Dozens of others injured in the floods are in hospital undergoing treatment. 

Some schools have also been closed because the buildings have collapsed due to floods. In neighbouring Kenya floods said to be caused by excessive rainfall have resulted in the submersion of entire estates in Nairobi and the death of more than 200 people so far. 

More than 70 people in Kenya cannot be accounted for due to the floods, according to press reports. Floods are also reported in Tanzania where some deaths have occurred too.

Coffee solar driers can be a good way to dry coffee during this rainy season. 

Impact on harvests 
Water is life and we have always prayed for rain to carry out successful agriculture. Going by what we have experienced, the amount of rain that we have got in the past several months has exceeded what we actually wished to get. 

The coffee harvests seem quite abundant, but the crop must be harvested when the cherries are red ripe and dried thoroughly before it is sold. 

The fact, however, is that coffee takes much longer to ripen when there is excessive rain nearly every day for too long. Most Robusta coffee farmers have to wait longer to harvest their crop because of the rain.

Some varieties of Robusta coffee have ripened and some harvest has been done but due to the almost daily rains farmers are having a difficult time to dry it to the required moisture content levels. 

This has been the case with other crops such as maize and beans. Keeping the crops in moist conditions for too long is discouraged because it often leads to mould and formation of aflatoxins that are said to cause cancer.

Effects of floods on nutrients 
Joseph Asiimwe, the business coordinator of Kyazanga Farmers Cooperative Society said: “Too much rain drains the soil of nutrients. It dilutes the fertilisers that the farmers apply to achieve vigorous crop growth. It also enhances weed growth and pests’ multiplication.  

Farmers must spend more on inputs such as pesticides and herbicides. And lastly, most of our farmers live in small houses with no crop storage space. When it rains too much, as it does nowadays, the farmers are forced to keep the harvest indoors, under crowded conditions.”

Asiimwe further said that farmers find it hard to dry their harvested crops to the required moisture content levels. 

A farmer dries his maize on tarpaulin under the sun to protect it from moisture and contamination.

Deo Nuwagaba, the deputy executive director of National Union of Coffee Agribusinesses and Coffee Enterprises (NUCAFE) has a solution to the farmer’s crop drying difficulties. 

He said, “This is the time for our farmers to embrace the solar dryer system.  Under the system the coffee or any other crop will be covered and protected from the rain. During the rainy season the sun may not be so bright but there will always be sufficient warmth to dry the coffee under the solar drier.” He is however conscious of the fact that few farmers can afford to purchase solar dryers.

Fish ponds destroyed 
Paul Ssekyewa, the proprietor of Ssenya Fish Farms in Masaka City, said the current floods have destroyed a number of fish ponds in the region. He said when the floods take over the entire swamp where the ponds are located they introduce wild and foreign fish species into the ponds where the farmer has been keeping his favored fish species. 

“The farmed fish run away into the flood water and get lost from the farmer,” he said. “Often diseases are introduced to the farmed fish by the wild species which gain entrance into the ponds. Where the ponds are not submerged under the floods feeding the fish becomes a problem as it is not easy for the farmer to throw feed into the pond when it is raining. There is less growth of the fish during the rainy season due to feed provision issues. Remember the rain also falls onto the ponds since there are no umbrellas to protect fish ponds from rain. They can fill up and burst their boundaries, causing the fish to escape.”

Ssekyewa further said that currently there is a big shortage of silver fish (mukene) which is raw material for making fish feeds and that fish farmers have a feed shortage. He is trying to establish the cause of mukene shortage but he has been quick to attribute it to the prolonged rains. “During the rainy season fishermen cannot easily dry the mukene,” he says.

During an interview with Seeds of Gold, Dr Paul Kanoonya, retired Masaka District Production Officer, has said, “Nature tends to reproduce itself abundantly during the rainy season. And this is the case with animals and plants. There is overwhelming reproduction of biting insects and rapid growth of weeds and wild plants.

Some of the flying insects also suck blood from animals like cattle and goats. Others such as biting flies can be a real nuisance to the farmed animals, causing worry and uneasiness.

The body condition of the animal deteriorates which can be seen by the skin hair standing out and constant shaking of the head and ears to ward off the insects otherwise known as kawawa in the Luganda language. The animals are kept in a state of discomfort and worry which often results in weight loss. In some cases the animal develops wounds.”

Effects on livestock 
Dr Kanoonya added that when animals such as cattle and goats walk in water for too long they develop a disease called foot-rot caused by the bacterium known as Sphaerophorus necrophorus which becomes rampant during the rainy season.

He said foot-rot disease causes limping of the animals and makes it hard for them to walk about easily looking for grass to eat. Dr Kanoonya also said it is difficult for most cattle keepers to sustain general hygiene in the wet season.

Extreme weather conditions such as what we are experiencing now could be a symptom of climate change, according to a PANOS publication titled: “Just a lot of air?”

The little booklet says: “There have been unpredictable and extreme weather patterns --- freak weather disasters such as Hurricane Mitch that hit Central America in 1998; the devastating storm ‘Lothar’ that swept through Europe in December 1999; and; and the floods in Mozambique in early 2000.”

Climate change 
Climate change is not just about the world heating up. In some cases it manifests in the form of heavy storms and floods like the ones we are witnessing currently and other times it may be in the form of prolonged severe droughts.

The only hope seems to lie in adapting climate smart agriculture which is described as an integrated approach to managing landscapes – including cropland, pastureland, forests and fisheries – which addresses challenges related to food security and climate change.