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How I learnt to Farm Locally through Local Solutions: Youth in Agriculture

Last week, I promised that I would write a follow-up article to the one I previously posted on “Practicing what we preach in Agriculture: Too Cool to Farm”. I had wanted to discuss the general challenges and opportunities in farming from my local perspective. However, I will not specifically dwell on the particulars of challenges and opportunities but will discuss them on general terms.

Agriculture in Uganda employs up to 80% of the total population. The sector remains crucial in improving the livelihoods and stimulating growth in the economy and yet it’s characterized by serious challenges such as traditional modes of production, limited attention  and insufficient investment on the sector from the part of government, poor image and perceptions of the youth into agriculture, lack of investments in agriculture by most Ugandan farmers and the unattractiveness to most young people in Uganda and yet as Enoth Mbeine , a Business Development Service Consultant puts it Agriculture has significantly changed. Farmers are now educated, business-savvy entrepreneurs who possess some extensive training and knowledge are into agriculture. There are currently many formally employed people who are abandoning their lucrative jobs to venture into farming.

Back to my Farm, and as I pointed last week, it’s anchored on a 4 hectare piece of very fertile land. By this time, the beans and maize planted has already germinated and in two weeks we should be set for our first weeding.

Ox-Ploughing

Picture: A section of the Farm being Ploughed 2 weeks ago

Rural communities tend to farm according to indigenous knowledge systems. For example, they would prefer to plant different varieties of seeds from a source within the community or  those kept by themselves that they are familiar with than buy from a  recognized seed store, they are also either able to plant in lines or not in lines depending on individual farmer’s wish. This is because these are tested methods, ideas, systems and processes. It worked for them and is working for them and they would not accept anything they are not sure of.

A case in point was an experience I interfaced from most farmers. Because, I wanted to buy seeds from a recognized seed store and of commercial value, I was discouraged by many farmers in the village and their arguments was that these seeds often frustrate, failing to germinate and if at all they germinate by any chance, they don’t produce or get ready for harvest at the same time. A case in point was when one of the recognized “Town Dweller”- Turned farmer from the village, decided to sell seeds of soya bean, (Nam Soy 1) to famers with all the promises that it would work out well and fetch higher prices upon harvest and sale only for farmers to be seriously disappointed when the seeds couldn’t all germinate and the few that germinated couldn’t be harvested at the same time as some of them were ready for harvest while others were at flowering stage. Hilarious!

I found sense in their arguments and also because I wanted to produce purely organic crops in the first season, I took their advice.

In the 2nd season, I will explore the production of non-organic Maize taking into account its market potentials and will serve as an example to some of the farmers, peers and even school mates at Primary and Secondary Education, who eventually due to many reasons dropped out of school and are practicing farming on a small scale as a means of survival

I also learnt that because these methods worked well for farmers and they get good harvest from their produce, some of the farmers wouldn’t want to adapt to other modern or new approaches to farming. Planting of seeds are done in lines- but the farmers do not get a great deal by getting a stride of ropes to help them perfect the lines. They are simply “experts” on their own in digging the holes and perfecting the lines.

Moses in the GardenPicture: The writer works out!- Digs the holes in “lines” ready for planting

As I worked together with them and participated in most of the activities, I kept asking them many questions as I learnt as well as share my ideas with them. Ideally, I was on a mission to practically put from paper or from the pulpit what we have of long been preaching direct to the ground! – Making Agriculture and farming seen as reward systems especially for the young people or my peers in the village!!

Therefore, through all the different stages of crop production from clearing the land, planting, weeding, harvesting and all the other nitty gritties involved, there is a whole range of local ideas that I discovered worked pretty well for farmers.

ImagePicture: A female Farmer helps to plant as the land is cleared assisted by a Son- on a Non School Day

The challenge is that most farmers are unable to produce on a fairly large scale or utmost medium scale – producing basically for commercial purposes. This means that, besides farmers producing for food, if they were to produce as a business then their investments in agriculture would thus require an understanding of how much money, labor, inputs etc. one injects at all the stages.

The ideas and principles in planning, record keeping, planting, pest and disease control methods, pre-harvest and post harvest handling etc. would enable one to understand the viability and profitability of such undertakings.

Because, I have learnt these practices over the years, I take attention to every detail and decision we make. Right from the time we started planning about this venture, we calculated how much money we required for first clearing, 2nd clearing, seeds, labor and etc and this has enabled us to progress well in the venture. As we plan to produce at a later stage (Probably 2nd Season) for purely commercial reasons integrating all aspects of value additions for instance, we hope that this first season will be an eye opener for us all as we shift from a traditionally dominated mode of small scale agricultural production to a commercially viable one.

Agriculture in most parts of Africa and especially remote areas are small scale, fragmented, and produced using local methods and solutions. This is because, farming has not been mechanized or supported to be commercial and farmers are neither sensitized nor given the much needed necessary support in their production processes. The Governments are always good on paper and on legislation to laud themselves to be supporting agriculture as an engine of growth yet in  most instances and for the case of Uganda with high potential to agricultural production, the sector can be said to be largely neglected

In December 2011, I toured about 5 Large Commercial Farms in the Buffalo and Rochester area in Western New York, United States of America. I noted that with high and sophisticated level of agricultural mechanization in that area, you cannot survive or compete once you are a small scale farmer. The Production has to be commercial for commercial reasons and meeting the required standards to be able to reach even the local market. Some of the Farms were already supplying to huge Stores such as Wal-Mart and other small ones were struggling to have their products such as cheese, reach such stores as Wal-Mart.

With a country like Uganda so rich with fertile soils and a promising population capable of transforming agriculture in Uganda as power economic house, our Governments have done little to attain this much needed effort. Uganda’s economy is largely dominated by the agricultural sector, which accounts for 41.6% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), 85% of the export earnings and 80% of employment opportunities. This sector is therefore paramount towards sustaining Uganda’s economy and its Population of 34 million people and hence the relevance of  heavily investing in the sector , changing mindsets and building capacity, skills and knowledge base of its Citizens and individuals towards the sector.

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Moses Owiny
Agriculture| Rural Dev|ICT4D|Gender