Farmers in Buikwe district are venturing into hybrid maize farming to tighten food security and boost household income, writes Arthur Matsiko.
Frederick Kibalama was a struggling small-scale farmer in Ssese, Nyenga sub-county specializing in vanilla and cocoa. The 59-year-old was ignorant of diversifying into commercial food crop production as a reliable source of income. With his wife Jessica Namuleme, the duo also depended on sweet potatoes and matoke to feed their family until 2016 when they learnt of maize farming.
“A young woman visited our village and sensitized us about maize growing and its benefits,” he says.
Thus, in March 2016, he set out a demonstration farm using 2kg of hybrid maize seeds and fertilizers. To his surprise, this sample garden yielded 120kg of maize on which he fed his family during the drought that had ravaged the area that year.
This demonstration farm motivated the father of nine to aim higher. Thus in February 2017, he bought 6kg of maize seed and 50kg of fertilizers. Having been accustomed to inadequate food not only in his household but also the entire district, Kibalama’s grip on maize farming was fastened after harvesting 38 sacks of maize from one acre of land.
Weighing between 110kg and 120kg each, he sold 16 sacks, and has stored 22. To him, selling a kilogram at Shs 1,000 was a fair deal. At the moment, he has already secured enough seeds and is waiting for the rains so that he can plant on 1.5 acres of land – which he says is progressive expansion.
While over 80 per cent of Ugandans depend on agriculture, about 10.7 million Ugandans suffer from undernourishment. According to a 2017 Transforming the Ugandan Maize System case study by Eduardo Tugendhat, about 39 per cent of children experience stunting due to poor-quality food.
“They are caught in a trap where the lack of resources limits their ability to produce and sell enough of the surplus, which in turn is needed to invest in improving and expanding the farm as well as other critical household needs,” the study further highlights.
Sharing this view is One Acre Fund (OAF), a not-for-profit organization enabling farmers to access quality agricultural inputs on credit. The organization provides inputs such as maize seeds, fertilizers, practical skills about modern farming methods, and market linkages, among other services.
Kibalama is one of the 6,876 farmers in the district who are benefiting from agricultural inputs distributed by OAF. According to Sharon Muhwezi, OAF’s government relations and policy analyst in Uganda, maize guarantees secure household income and food security throughout the year.
“We give them maize because [it] is a very prominent or staple food crop in Uganda, but is also a cash crop,” she says. “In deciding what products we offer to different communities, we do survey at household level; we ask people what they eat, what they would like to produce more of and what they would be willing to invest in.”
But because the maize seed is hybrid, farmers have to buy it every season. However, farmers like Kibalama are not bothered buying seeds every season since they are assured of high yields.
WHY PAY FOR SEEDS?
While the government, through Operation Wealth Creation (OWC), provides free agriculture inputs to farmers; OAF distributes them on credit.
Fascinated by this approach is Dr Patience Rwamigisa, commissioner, agricultural extension services, department of agricultural extension and skills management in the ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries. Rwamigisa told The Observer he was impressed to realize that farmers do not default on the seeds received on credit.
“You see there is a strong commitment from the farmer to pay back; meaning that government has the opportunity to look at this kind of model,” he said. “So, I want to understand what benefits farmers are getting; why is it that they are not going for the free seeds we are giving [through OWC] but they prefer to come and buy these ones.”
OAF’s country director, Sebastian Fellahauer, said the programme is a unique rural employer, creating jobs for community members who work as field officers, enumerators and trial implementers.
“Beyond impact, OAF is considering sustainability. We don’t have an exit plan but, rather, a graduation plan for our clients into higher income and capability brackets, and our program to increase area coverage and number of products offered,” Fellahauer said.
While launching their operations in Uganda recently, OAF distributed farm inputs such as seeds, spray pumps, pesticides, solar lamps and drying trampolines. For the 2018 season, OAF is set to distribute more inputs worth Shs 617, 431, 000.
While OAF launched operations in Uganda last month in Buikwe, area woman MP, Judith Babirye, encouraged farmers to utilize the opportunity and think commercially to boost income and food security.
She also promised to petition parliament to increase budget funding for the agriculture sector. Now that he has understood the dynamics of maize growing, Kibalama looks forward to employing tractors so he can plant on 60 acres of land in the near future.