Why you should consider maize growing next season

Dr Frank Kagoda the director of Ikulwe Satellite Research Station in Mayuge District explains the agronomy of maize. PHOTO/Denis Edema 

What you need to know:

  • Farmers can cut costs on post-harvest pesticides, and slashing crop losses and aflatoxins by using specialised hermetic bags to store grain so that it is dry and air-tight.

Maize is one of the staple foods in Uganda. Its production has increased over the years as people change their consumption trends. It has evolved from a purely subsistence to a successful commercial crop. 
Maize in Uganda is sold mainly for food in schools, relief by World Food Programme (WFP) or export to neighbouring countries such as Kenya, Rwanda and Burundi.

Maize is one of the most widely grown cereals in Uganda. This is so because it is easy to bring up the crop.
All you would probably need is simple medium or moderately fertile soils, seeds to sow, a hoe and some manual labour. If we spoke theoretically, almost every home in Africa could start up a corn field.
Climatically, maize can be produced in most parts of Uganda except in the most arid parts of Karamoja. The crop is however, is commonly produced in Kapchorwa, Iganga, Masindi, Mbale, Mubende, Kasese, Kamuli, Jinja and Kabarole districts.

According to Dr Frank Kagoda, a maize breeder and director of Ikulwe Satellite Research Station in Mayuge District, some of the common varieties of maize seed currently available in Uganda include; Longe6H, Longe7H, Longe9H, Longe10H, Longe11, Naro Maize7-33 and bazooka (UH5354), UH5053. Open pollinated varieties OPV Longe5, MM3, Longe4, Longe5D, Longe10IR, Longe7IR (anti striga). 
How to prepare your land
“Maize requires a well prepared field. Soils must be deep, fertile and well drained,” says Dr Kagoda.
He says maize doesn’t necessarily require a smooth seed bed. If you setting up your maize on a new field, its better you plough twice before you would sow the maize seeds, and the other field you plough once. 

How to plant maize
Best time to plant: You need to plant your maize at the onset of the rains either in March or in August to September. However, you could also plant your maize when it’s still dry but during the time when the rains are expected soon. In this case though, you need to treat your seeds against soil pests before planting.
Depth of planting: Make an estimate of about 5-7 cm deep, and you can make the holes deeper for dry planting and sandy soil.
Spacing: When spacing maize it may solely depend on the variety of the maize taken up and or if an intercropping pattern is used on the maize field. For example, Longe10 is spaced by 75x30cm with a seed rate of 25kg/ha so are other varieties.

How to fertilise 
The key requirements are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Nitrogen can be got from fertilisers such as NPK, DAP, urea and sulphate of ammonia.
“Test your soils before determining the type of fertiliser to apply. DAP is applied during planting while urea after four weeks,” says Dr Kagoda. 
How to control weeds
Weeding maize is quite simple and you can do it manually with hand hoe.
We recommend that you weed your maize plantation as early as possible; at least within the first 45 days.
Weeding depends on the environment, rainfall amount and the soil weed bank. Broad spectrum herbicide like Roundup could also be used before ploughing the field during land preparation to control perennial weeds and to generally control weeds in young plants.

Use hermetic bags 
Dr Kagoda says farmers can cut costs on post-harvest pesticides, and slashing crop losses and aflatoxins by using specialised hermetic bags to store grain so that it is dry and air-tight.
As it is, Uganda has been plagued by postharvest losses, which claim more than a million tonnes of grain a year.
The huge scale of such losses has been caused by poor postharvest management and storage, which exposes grains to pests and diseases as well as aflatoxin, which can kill consumers.

As a result, farmers have reported planting up to 30 per cent more grain in order to compensate for their post-harvest losses.
However, the increasing use of hermetic bags is slashing their losses by up to 80 percent, with the gains proving greatest for maize.
The hermetic bags retail at Shs6,000, come in three layers and can last for up to three years depending on how they are kept.

Farmers also do not need to apply chemicals in the storage of produce, as the air-tight bags, through their woven polypropylene (WPP) outer covering, deplete the contents stored inside of oxygen, producing carbon dioxide instead. 
This creates unfavourable conditions for the existence of pests and prevents aflatoxin contamination caused by grains exposure to moisture in storage.
In addition to their low cost, hermetic bags require only basic training to use. 
The grains must first be dried to a maximum moisture content of 13.5 percent, which is normally done under the sun. 

The farmer then places the grain in the bag and squeezes out as much air as possible. To seal, the farmer must tie both interior bags, finishing with the outer layer.
“Hermetic storage technology provides safe, cost-effective storage solutions. Hermetic bags enable farmers to keep grain year-round, without pesticide application, for household consumption while providing the household with a marketable asset in case of emergency,” says Dr Kagoda.

Quick tips for growing maize
• On a well prepared land open up holes of about 5-7cm for hand planting.
• Sow at least two seeds per hole. Sowing should be in rows.
• Then thinly cover with a layer of soil.
• Water when sawing is done earlier before onset of the rains.
• Ensure spacing as recommended earlier.
• Weed the field after two and three weeks after planting.
• Harvest your maize when the comb is well filled and dry for drying type or harvest it fresh.
• Your harvest should be timed around the 7th or 8th week after planting.