Benjamin Watsala looking at his produce at the end of the season. PHOTO: Asili FARMS
Kiryandongo – In many parts of Uganda, smallholder farmers face numerous challenges such as low agricultural production and productivity, poor storage infrastructure, low quality inputs, unreliable market, lack of knowledge, among others. This in essence makes it difficult for farmers to fully realize their agricultural potential.
Uganda’s agriculture sector is dominated by small-holder farmers, on average each holding about 2.5 acres of land. These small-holder farmers are very efficient and given the right conditions their productivity will improve. The individual capacity of the farmers to address challenges they face is limited.
To enable the farmers to bridge this gap, Agilis Partners introduced a farmer support program whose sole aim is to help farmers replicate the same agronomy model employed on the Asili Farms. Our well-trained Village Transformation Entrepreneurs (VTEs) supply inputs, provide agronomic extension services and offer access to markets for smallholder farmers in the community. The VTEs identify, register and supply inputs to the registered farmers. With this, the farmers are able to access the same inputs as those used by Asili Farms, same plant management techniques, the same crop monitoring service that helps farmers target problems and access inputs in real time to respond. This results in a much better yield. One focus areas was Gasper, a village located near Agilis’s Farm in Bweyale.
A team of Village Transformation Entrepreneurs (VTEs) during a training session at Asili FARMS: Photo: Brickmas NSABIMANA
During the past season, sixteen farmers with a total of sixty-three acres at the Gasper Trading Center in Kiryandongo District were supported with seed, herbicides as well as weekly crop scouting to assess the general plant health.
The adopted agronomy practices helped the farmers weather down the effects of the unpredictable climatic conditions that were experienced during the year. By simply following principles of Conservation Farming like no till, the farmers’ gardens were able to retain moisture for longer compared to their counterparts who used the traditional methods such as ploughing. Ploughing the land exposes the moist soil whose water quickly evaporates thereby dehydrating the crop and ultimately withering.
The supported farmers did not see a significant effect on their final yield and as a result, Agilis was able to collect 65.15 metric tons from these farmers.
The supported farmers earned an average of Ush414,947 per acre compared to the national average profit per acre of Ush253,228 (https://naads.or.ug/profit-margins-on-maize-production/). Some of the excelling farmers took home a net profit of up to Ush4.9million. This is an encouraging feat given the challenging conditions experienced during the season.
Benjamin Watsala who emerged best performing farmer in the program says this was the first time he had ever harvested such a yield in all his 10 years of farming.
“There’s a huge difference between how much I used to earn while working alone and what I am earning now,” he said. “From what I have seen, I used not to properly manage the land; one side would be good and the other would be really poor. This reflected in the yield that I got because I was just planting and hoping for the best as I had no one to guide me.
“This past season, I was helped to identify the different risks to my garden and it indeed looked tidy. In all my 10 years I had never got this kind of yield, moreover during the dry spells that hit us. From the four acres, I harvested 47 bags. The money I was paid is something I had never earned before!”
Watsala during the drying of his maize Photo: Edward MAKIKA
He says by adopting the conservation farming method, he was able to drastically reduce costs he previously incurred during land preparation and weeding. He was also able to identify risks such as pests and diseases which were managed using the methods he was advised upon.
Watsala who is now the star of the entire village says everyone is watching to see how he will perform next season. He also says that farmers should adopt conservation farming if they are to earn from the sector.
“This method makes work easier; crops are healthier because you manage weeds and pests easily and that’s what makes the difference in the yield. You don’t have to incur costs for ploughing the land, manual weeding, among others. If everyone followed this, poverty would be gone.
“My style of farming has changed forever because now I know that should one fail to control weeds in the early stages, they are already incurring losses.”
The crop monitoring ensures that farmers are able to identify and resolve any problems in real time. This ensures that the farmers’ expected yield is not affected.
Watsala field was well managed during the season with crop monitoring support from Asili Farms. Photo: Edward MAKIKA
Tom Khauka is another farmer who has started reaping the benefits of employing the principles of conservation farming; no tilling the land, maintaining soil cover at all times and crop rotation.
The father of 10; four boys and six girls, says that in the past, he used to plant local seed varieties and that from five acres, he would harvest between 18 – 20 bags. Moreover, this was after investing substantial amounts into preparing the garden by ploughing sometimes more than once and then more costs for weeding.
Khauka poses infront of his shop. The money from his farming activities have helped him set up a new business venture. Photo: Edward MAKIKA
The excited pastor explains that the money he received from the sale of that harvest has helped him put up a four roomed structure at the Gasper Trading Center. He plans to use two of the rooms as a store and a shop and then the other two will be rented out.
“At the moment, things are going well and I plan to increase the acreage. I have a total of 50 acres and only a small portion is being used. Together with my family, we would like to scale up the cultivated area to at least 30 acres. This would substantially increase my earnings enabling me to achieve my dreams such as purchase of a tractor to help earn extra income as well help in transporting produce.”
From part of his maize earnings, Khauka now purchases and stocks produce like millet, beans, rice, ground nuts, among others. This he says is stored and sold when there is scarcity.
Both Khuka and Watsala agree on the same thing; traditional methods of farming are no longer able to help sustain families. The two farmers state that a shift in the mode of cultivation has to take place if the smallholder farmers are to earn from the practice and also bring themselves out of poverty.
Agilis has extended this agronomic support to other locations so that more farmers are able to benefit.