As the planting season approaches, rain-fed crop agriculture has just gotten a major boost. Agronomists argue that timely planting is important for plant health. But that is not enough.
According to James Mugerwa, an extension worker in Buvuma District, in order to boost yields, farmers must apply fertilisers even on improved seed varieties. A fertilised maize farm with improved seeds, he says, can generate up to 4.3 tonnes compared to 2.4 tonnes in unfertilised crops. But what crops can you grow this season for a profit?
Cereals grown in Uganda include maize, finger millet, sorghum, rice, pearl millet and wheat in that order of importance. Other than wheat, these crops provide staple food for well more than 50 per cent of the population. During the first rains, farmers can expect to be ready.
Mugerwa says maize should be planted on the onset of rains to take advantage of the nitrogen flush effect which is the release of accumulated nitrogen in the soil during the dry season. Normally the first season planting is in March and harvesting is in July-August, while the second season is from August to January.
Farmers should avoid late planting since it leads to increased incidences of pests and disease attacks hence reduced yields. “Planting requires proper management practices to attain potential yields,” Mugerwa observes.
He explains that making a decision on the variety of maize to be planted is an important aspect. That goes along with determining the purpose, acreage and planting time.
The main maize producing areas of Kamuli, Kaliro, Iganga, Jinja, Kayunga and Bugiri should start planting maize for the mid-June harvest. Rain-fed maize normally takes 110-120 days from the time of planting to harvesting. The recommended sowing rate is 25kg per hectare. The season is still early for farmers in the Eastern Savannah agro-ecological zone.
Farmers in Kaberamaido, Katakwi, Amuria, Soroti, Kumi, Bukedea, Pallisa, Budaka, Butalejja, Tororo and Busia districts, can plant until March 15.
Relatedly, farmers in the Karamoja zone can expect to plant sorghum, millet, early maturing maize, sweet potato, some beans, groundnut and pigeon peas.
For farmers that planted maize last season, Mugerwa recommends pigeon peas as the crop of choice in case of rotation.
Mugerwa stresses the need to plant hybrids including Longe 5, Ssalongo, Hybrid, Longe 7H and Longe 10, among others with the recommended spacing of 75x60cm.
“A wide range of pests and diseases will attack the maize at the different stages of its growth cycle. A farmer, therefore, should select a variety that can tolerate both pest and disease attack. Several tolerant maize varieties have been developed by Naro,” Mugerwa says.
Sorghum is an important income and food security crop for those living in drought-prone regions of Uganda. Sorghum takes an average of 100 days to mature and the recommended hybrids that can earn farmers more cash are Sekedo, Epurpur, Seso 1 and SESO 3 developed by the National Semi Arid Resources Research Institute of the National Agricultural Research Organisation (NaSARRI).
Charles Oboth, the managing director of Gulu Agricultural Development Company (GADC) says improved varieties are key in areas with less rainfall.
He says a new and improved quick-maturing type of sorghum called Sekedo, for instance, an improvement from Seredo, a brown-seeded variety adopted for all areas in Uganda, may help farmers adapt to the shorter rainy season.
Sorghum is normally planted in the second season (August-September) but there are some farmers who plant in the first season.
Oboth says it is advisable to plant on time at the onset of rains so that the crop reaches peak water requirement. Early planting also enables the crop escape drought and attack by the sorghum midge, stem borers and sorghum shoot fly. Most damage by shoot fly occurs within 14-20 days after germination, so spraying should be done within the first two weeks after germination.
In Uganda, the government believes finger millet could be a valuable source of food and income. Farmers that plan to grow millet should already have ploughed their gardens as the planting season normally ends in mid-March. With the crop expected to take 110-130 days until maturity, the time is right for planting.
Millet is already subject to value addition because of its substantial amounts of iron, calcium and zinc. This has created more market. Innovations include snack bar, instant porridge mixes and malt beverages, which are an excellent source of nutrition.
The major rice producing areas in Uganda include the districts of Pallisa, Butaleja, Iganga, Lira, Bundibugyo and Gulu districts.
Rice is increasingly becoming an important food crop because of increased demand in urban areas coupled with the declining production of traditional food crops such as bananas, cassava and finger millet. With hybrids such as SUPARICA 1, NERICA 4 and NERICA 10, farmers can expect to harvest in 100 days under conducive conditions.
According to Dr Asher Wilson Okurut, an agronomist at the National Agricultural Research Laboratories (NARL) Kawanda, there are two planting times ‑ August to November, and February to March. Most plantings are made from August to November.
This gives good establishment and plants become well advanced (2.5 to 3m high).
He explains that the first season is also reliable because there is sufficient rainfall. “Rain-fed bananas benefit from enough rainfall for vigorous vegetative growth,” he says. Robusta coffee can be planted alongside bananas.
Robusta coffee is grown in low altitude areas of central, eastern, western and south eastern Uganda up to 1,200 metres above sea level. Arabica, which grows in highlands, is planted between October and February.
Joseph Ruyombo, an agronomist and field officer with Ugacof in Nkokonjeru, Buikwe District emphasises that with the right holes and improved varieties, farmers should still add manure and plant very early in the morning or late in the evening. During the early stages, coffee can be intercropped with beans or bananas with the guidance of the nearest extension worker on recommended spacing.
There is an increasing demand for vegetables in Uganda. High value markets have led to the growing demand of hybrids such as cabbages, broccoli, spinach and carrots, among others. But indigenous vegetables are also still lucrative among local communities.
At the onset of the rains, farmers, especially in urban areas, can grow nakati, Amaranthus dubius (dodo), African spider flower, eggplants, tomatoes, peppers, okra and jute mallow for sale to farmers markets.
According to Prof Wilberforce Tushemereirwe, the director of National Agricultural Research Laboratories (NARL) Kawanda, vegetable production is important in improving nutrition as well as adapting to climate change. He says that organic vegetable growing emphasises proper field preparation, water management, staking, nutrient management and pest and disease control.
These are not rain-fed but their money-making potential has convinced Roger Ssekubunga, a mushroom farmer in Makindye, to include them among priority crops to plant.
“Mushroom cultivation can help reduce vulnerability to poverty because they are fast yielding,” Ssekubunga says. This he says can be done with a starter capital of about Shs400,000 and yet they are ready to sell after about six weeks.
The main legumes grown in Uganda, that is beans, chick pea, cowpea, and dry peas should be ready for planting. The dry zone of Karamoja will have its planting season begin in April but other zones start earlier in March.