What you need to know:
- Water plays a very big role in agriculture. It is very much required by livestock keepers as well as by crop farmers and the biggest source of water is rain.
Mankind cannot control nature. We have no control over weather and we cannot choose the amount of rain to have or the length of the dry period to go through.
But we can take precautions. We seem set to get more than normal rainfall between September and December this year according to a press release from the Ministry of Water and Environment dated September 1. It does mention “the evolution of El Nino conditions, predicted to continue until the end of the forecast period of September to December 2023.”
Effects of too much rain to farmers
Much as farmers often pray for rain it is true that rain sometimes comes with real catastrophes. Water plays a very big role in agriculture. It is very much required by livestock keepers as well as by crop farmers and the biggest source of water is rain. But rain plays an important role in the multiplication of the anopheles mosquito which causes malaria, the number one killer disease in Uganda. It causes flooding and water-logging in valleys and retards crop growth in those areas.
It is the chief agent of soil erosion. Too much rain is often responsible for bursting of river banks and disastrous destruction of crops and human settlements along river banks.
Periodically, we read about the bursting of River Namwamba in western Uganda and its washing away of bridges, schools, health facilities, crop fields, and residential houses. Rainstorms have caused destitution by destroying crops such as banana plantains, cassava, maize, and a whole range of other crops, not to mention removing roofs of buildings.
Too much rain can destroy roads and bridges and thus make it difficult for farmers to transport their produce to the market.
Who has forgotten the sudden destruction of the Katonga Bridge early this year on the Kampala-Masaka highway and the problems that it has caused for farmers transporting their farm produce to Kampala?
We may be unable to prevent natural calamities, but we can take precautions. If rain is the main agent of soil erosion there is something you can do to mitigate soil erosion by rain especially if your garden is on a slope. Augustine Kasumba a retired agriculture officer in Kisekka Sub-county, Lwengo District says, “One form of water soil erosion mitigation is to dig trenches across the garden to trap running water and soil.
A farmer may also plant rows of preferably fodder grass across the garden to trap both water and soil. It is important to avoid tiling of the land because when the soil is loose it can easily be driven away by running rainwater.”
It must be borne in mind that erosion causes loss of good top soil and lots of plant nutrients which it supplies. Erosion exposes plant roots leaving bare stones on which the farmer can grow no crops.
In many cases entire crops may be driven away with the soil. Erosion may cause the burial of crops growing on the lower side of the garden. Running water can create wide channels leading downwards and ever widening to make it impossible for the farmer to use motorized machines.
Plant trees around your farm
Kasumba also advises farmers to keep their gardens well protected from strong rainstorms by planting trees all around the boundaries to act as wind breakers.
This is of course a measure that ought to have been taken years ago by all farmers. However it is never too late to plant trees. Covering the ground with organic matter such as grass or leaves (referred to as mulching) protects the soil from strong rain drops and reduces chances of soil erosion.
The expected heavy rains will cause a lot of weed growth but mulching is one of the most effective methods of weed control.
In their book titled: East African Agriculture Ngugi D N, Karau P K and Nguyo W, says, “The amount of water erosion depends on many factors such as rainfall, slope, soil type and land use. It might be thought that high rainfall would lead to high rates of erosion. However this is only true if the vegetative cover is removed. In general where rainfall is high, plant growth is good and soil has a protective cover of crops or natural vegetation, there is much less erosion. Lack of vegetative cover exposes soil to the beating action of raindrops which is the main agent of erosion.”
Terracing and contour farming
Peter Wamboga, communications and partnership director at Science Foundation for Livelihoods and Development says farmers working in mountainous regions such as Mount Elgon, Rwenzori and Kabale should carry out terracing, and contour farming.
“They should have planted fodder grass bands across the fields to mitigate soil erosion. The Ministry of Agriculture Animal Industry and Fisheries should take advantage of the local radio stations in each district to communicate regular advisories about the likely problems farmers will experience in the impending excessive rains.”
He is disappointed that in the ongoing Parish Development Model project there is no component of Climate Change. “If the project is mainly about farming, how can you carry it out without intensive education of farmers about climate change,?” he wonders.
It is also important that farmers take advantage of the rains to harvest rainwater. Rainwater harvesting is described as a technology used to collect, convey and store rainwater from relatively clean surfaces like the roof, rock catchment or land surface for later use.
After the expected El Nino rains this year the dry season will set in and farmers will need water for both their crops and animals.
Climate Change is really about extreme weather conditions. While this time round we anticipate more than normal rains we may have to go through an extremely long and severe drought early next year, which will require irrigation.
Peter Ddaaki a farmer in Kitenga, Masaka City who keeps cattle and grows vegetables and other crops has an underground tank that can store about 40,000 litres of rainwater from the house top.
There is a similar tank at St Jude Family Project School of Organic Farming. Such tanks are constructed by digging up a big hole and building concrete walls lined with tarpaulin. The stored water is used to water the animals and to irrigate crops.
Rainwater is said to be most ideal for irrigation because unlike water from most public water systems it does not carry chemicals like chlorine and others intended to kill bacteria. Such chemicals may not be good for plants and they may be destructive to some organisms in the soil.
The expected heavy rains must not be viewed as an altogether coming curse. Many of the crops that we grow require plenty of rain. For people intending to plant coffee seedlings this is the best chance they have.
They should plant at the beginning of the rainy season and apply the right amount of manure. Coffee does very well and grows fast in rainy periods. Avocado may be planted at the beginning of the rain season; it grows very well in rainy seasons.
Maize too does very well in rainy periods. Unfortunately there is a nationwide shortage of hybrid maize seed but for those intending to grow maize and have access to seed, they should plant quite early.
Other crops that will do well are sorghum, millet, and sweet potato. Plantains or bananas also grow well in rainy periods. The only worry is that if there are rainstorms the bananas and maize are felled to the ground and destroyed.
Heavy rainstorms have caused destitution by destroying crops such as banana plantains, cassava, maize, and a whole range of other crops, not to mention removing roofs of buildings. Too much rain can destroy roads and bridges and thus make it difficult for farmers to transport their produce.