As the rains pound several parts of the country, farmers need to figure out what to grow in this first season.
Among the guidelines farmers will use to determine what to produce are crop rotation programmes, prevailing crops, previous crop pests and disease, market demand, consumer taste and the ecological conditions of the area.
Some farmers are just beginning to prepare their land for planting while others who received early rains in April are weeding.
This is because last year the rainy season seemed to be stretching throughout the year with overlaps to 2020 thereby making farmers confused and wonder if the same will apply this year.
However according to expert view, this is the right time for farmers to begin engaging in planting the various crop varieties. This applies to all the agro ecological set ups across the country.
For the farmers to get it right in planting crop varieties of their choice to realise bumper harvest, they must abide to the season forecast as a guideline.
As such they are required to have a look at the weather forecast provided by Uganda National Meteorological Authority (UNMA).
The central regions of Nakasongola, Luwero, Kyotera, Kakumiro, Kassanda, Nakasongola, Kiboga, Mubende, Sembabule, Masaka, Lyantonde and Rakai has been experiencing isolated rains and some dry conditions since January.
The peak of the rains is expected to occur around mid - Junewhile the cessation rains is expected to occur around late June to early July.
The eastern central areas of the districts of Mukono, Buikwe, Kayunga and Buvuma have been experiencing dry spell with occasional intermitted outbreaks of showers and thunder storms since February.
They are currently experiencing light showers and overall this region is expected to experience normal rain till June.
The central and western parts of Lake Victoria region which include Kalangala, Kampala, Wakiso, Lwengo, Mpigi, Butambala, Gomba and Mityana districts has been experiencing off seasonal rainfall since March with the pick expected to occur in June.
The eastern part of the country covering districts of Jinja, Mayuge, Iganga, Bugiri, Namayingo, Luuka, Namutumba, Buyende, Kaliro, Bugweri, Busia and Tororo has been experiencing light rainfall punctuated with dry spell since January. The rains are expected to peak in May.
The north western part of the country with the districts of Arua, Maracha, Moyo, Obongi, Madi Okollo, Zombo, Nebbi, Packwach, Yumbe, Koboko, Terego and Adjumani have been experiencing dry conditions with sporadic rains since February. The onset seasonal rains started April with the peak in June.
The north eastern districts of Lira, Kitgum, Gulu, Otuke, Pader, Otuke, Dokolo and Kaberamaido will experience rainfall showers from March and will continue through to its peak in mid-October. Thereafter cessation of seasonal rainfall is expected from late November to December.
The central part of northern Uganda comprising of districts of Omoro, Lamwo, Nwoya, Amuru and Oyam have been experiencing dry season with light rains in January. The onset seasonal rains which started in early April will its peak in June.
The area characterised as central western with the districts of Ntoroko, Bundibugyo, Kabarole, Kyejonjo, Kyegegwa, Kamwenge, Kibaale, Kikuube, Bunyagabu, Kagadi, Hoima, Buliisa, Masindi and Kiryandongo have been experiencing isolated showers since March.
The onset seasonal rains associated with isolated outbreaks of light showers and thunderstorms is expected to peak in early Juneand this will continue through to July.
The south western districts of Kisoro, Kabale, Rubanda, Rukiga, Rwampara, Kazo, Rukungiri, Kanungu, Ntugamo, Mbarara, Kiruhura, Isingiro, Ibanda, Kitagwenda, Bushenyi, Buhweju, Mitooma, Sheema, Rubirizi and Kasese has been experiencing dry conditions punctuated with unseasonal rains since January. The onset of rainfall is expected to peak in June. The region is expected to receive above normal rainfall which is advantageous to the famers.
Crops to grow
There are 10 agro ecological zones in the country spread across the regions where farmers are expected to grow crops that suit the climate condition in the region. Below are details from various experts on which crops farmers can grow in which region and what agronomy practice to consider when planting their crops.
Most cereal crops are grown by farmers across the central region and this is particular for the case of maize while rice is mainly grown in eastern and parts of northern Uganda.
According to the Director National Crops Resources Research Institute (NaCRRI) Dr Geoffrey Asea this is the right time for farmers growing maize in the country to plant the crop.
To him the month of April expressed consistency in the rains meaning farmers must have prepared their land ready for planting.
There are different maize varieties for high, medium and low-medium altitude areas.
The farmers should, therefore, inquire about the ecological conditions before buying the seeds and to solve the issues of pests and diseases, regular scouting and monitoring is important to prevent heavy infestation.
Farmers should also be conscious to plant crop varieties that are meeting their market demand.
For the case of maize the Longe series are recommended including the drought Tego maize varieties WE2115 and WE2114 which are tolerant to drought prone areas.
For the case of rice, New Rice for Africa (Nerica) comprising of 18 varieties which can be grown upland are recommended. These include Nerica 1, Nerica 2, Nerica 4 and Nerica 7.
In 2013, varieties named Namche 1 to 4 were released. These varieties mature in 100-130 days depending on the variety. Others are Namche series 2 – 6 and WITA9, Agoro and Okile
In eastern and northern Uganda, the crops to grow are cassava, groundnuts, simsim, beans, green gram, pigeon pea, millet, sorghum and sunflower. Other crops of importance especially in the highlands of Bugisu region is Arabica coffee which requires to be planted at the onset of the rains.
Fruits and vegetables
The eastern region is also known for growing varieties of orange fruit mainly for commercialization. Other fruits are avocado mainly grown in central Uganda and water melon.
The vegetables are mainly traditional type such as cabbages, tomatoes, nakati, amaranth, cow pea, malakwang and spider flower.
Dr David Kalule Okello who is in charge of breeding programme of ground nuts at the National Semi-Arid Resources Research Institute (NaSARRI) in Serere explains that it is important for farmers to prepare their seed and seedlings for the different types of crops in advance. This means planting clean seed free from pests and diseases.
“It is important to acquire seed from a certified institute such as research institutes and seed producing companies. Choosing the land location is important. Farmers must desist from planting root crops such as cassava in water logged land,” says Kalule.
Kalule advises farmers to prepare the land well to avoid over growth of weeds which may outcompete the plants thereby registering yield loss.
“Farmers must desist from planting late maturing varieties of crops because the drought season may catch up when crops are not ready for harvest,” he says.
Cassava a major crop
This is a crop grown widely in eastern and northern Uganda as food and industrial crop.
Gerald Adiga, a research assistant in NaCRRI says this is the right time to plant the various varieties and once germination takes place, there is no need to worry because it is a plant known to be growing under harsh conditions of drought
He notes that cassava is versatile crop which grows well in Uganda’s arable land and it has the highest amount of starch which can be best intercropped with legumes and cereals when at a young stage.
Ideally, fertile well drained land on a flat terrain or gentle slope should be selected.
Farmers often rely on their traditional knowledge and observations, such as presence of certain plant species or earthworm casts, as an indicator of fertile soils.
Steep slopes should be avoided as they could be erosion-prone. If starting from a fallow, 3-5 years of fallow is optimum.
Avoid stony or rock and shaded areas including swamps or places which are likely to flood during the rainy season.
Land preparation should be done at the end of a dry season to allow for planting at the first rains of a rainy season.
There are 21 improved varieties of cassava which are adapted in various agro-ecological zones.
The plants from which the cuttings are taken must be free of signs of disease, such as CMD and CBSD.
Planting depth should be 6-10 cm in holes of 20-30 cm width and the hole spacing should be 1 meter between plants and 1 meter between rows.
Banana, beans, potatoes and vegetables
In central Uganda the major crops grown by farmers are mainly the East African Highland Banana commonly known as matooke though on rather small scale and Robusta coffee.
Others are beans, sweet potatoes and green vegetables such as nakati, spider flower, amaranth, green pepper, cabbages and fruits such as water melon.
The Director National Agricultural Research Laboratories (NaRL) Dr Wilberforce Tushemereirwe notes that the East African Highland banana is now a major crop grown in western Uganda for food and cash crop.
This is the right season for farmers to start planting the crop. The best agronomy is by digging a hole where manure must be poured and left to ferment for three to four days before the banana seedling is planted.
Thereafter agronomy practices such mulching and pruning are essential and farmers must ensure the seedlings are free from pests and diseases such as banana bacterial wilt and pests such as nematodes and banana weevils.
Other crops grown in western Uganda are Irish potatoes mainly in Kigezi region and farmers can obtain clean seedlings from Kachwekano Zonal Research and Development institute (KAZARDI) where breeding for seedling varieties takes place.