Edition 9Special Report

Water tanks, solar pumps sustain crops in Uganda’s cattle corridor

Wilson Kaire, a farmer in Jinja, Uganda, uses a solar irrigation pump to irrigate his tomato farm. Photo Credit: Lominda Afedraru

By Lominda Afedraru

[rt_dropcap_style dropcap_letter=”A” dropcap_content=”FTER an early morning drive to Nakasongola District in Central Uganda with a team of climate change experts and journalists, we are welcomed to the villages by the scorching heat of the sun and sights of people carrying heaps of jerricans on their bicycles in search of water.”]

The situation appears much dire for livestock keepers who have to drive their heads of cattle to watering points farther away.

In a stark contrast to the desperation around them, Fred Ssali and his wife Margaret look relatively comfortable harvesting tomatoes on their family farm in Kingongo village, Rwampanga County.

The family grows tomatoes and sweet potatoes using water from a community water tank constructed with the support of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

The water is tapped from Lake Kyoga water basin and moved to the tanks using gravitational pull. Mrs Ssali says the availability of water has helped them keep farming even during prolonged dry spells.

“We have been engaged in farming for over 15 years now. Previously we used to grow maize, groundnuts and cassava on five acres both for food and income. But we would reap meagre harvests due to the dry spells in this district.

Our earnings from maize would be about UgSh 1 million per season, which is not enough to meet all family demands,” she says. In 2014 a team of experts from FAO working under the Global Climate Change Alliance (GCCA) in Uganda and other partners came on the ground to sensitise farmers about adoption of technologies such as irrigation for food production during the dry season.

The farmers were asked to form farmer field schools. The Ssali family belongs to Tumwebaze farmer field school. The group members were encouraged to grow vegetables, particularly tomatoes and nakkati (Ethiopian eggplant), mushrooms and fruit trees, on a commercial basis and for food security.

“We started large-scale farming in 2017 on our family land after the FAO team established a 10,000 cubic metre water tank on our farm to serve the surrounding communities. We use the water for irrigation and for household needs.

We are able to earn UgSh 3 million per season from tomato sales as well as sweet potato and citrus. However, during rainy season we still grow maize and cassava to get additional income,” says Mrs Ssali. The family is using drip irrigation method to water the vegetable and tomato garden.

In addition to drip irrigation, farmers in Eastern Uganda in districts of Jinja, Kamuli and Iganga and in Western in Adjuman and Gulu are also embracing solar water pumps for irrigation. Wilson Kaire, who is one of the beneficiaries of the initiative, is applying

The portable solar water pumps are used to tap water from nearby valleys to the farms for irrigation using sprinklers, through a UK Aid initiative.

the technology on part of his land in Jinja where he is growing tomatoes and Sukuma Wiki (collard greens).

He harvests 120 boxes of tomatoes during dry season when the farm is irrigated using solar pump technology compared to 50 boxes when watering the crops using bottles.

The FAO representative in Uganda, Mr Antonio Querido, said that the purpose of making water facilities available to farming communities in the cattle corridor in the central region is to diversify production and ensure farmers trade assorted farm commodities throughout the year for income as well as secure food for their families.

It is an obligation that the water provided is of good quality and safe for human and animal use. Dr Emmanuel Zziwa, who is involved in implementing the GCCA project, said that the project targeting farming communities in Nakasongola is funded from a larger pool of USD 16 million covering six districts in the cattle corridor.

The first phase of the project covered 168 farmer field schools, comprising 20-30 farmer households each. Some farmers are engaged in growing improved varieties of pasture, which they use to feed their animals and sell to fellow farmers to earn an income.

Under Phase II of the project, new districts will be brought on board, including Kalungu, Lyantonde, Gomba, Mubende, Sembabule, Kiboga, Nakasongola, Luwero and Nakaseke. Similar climate-smart agriculture projects will be implemented in West Nile region and for districts in Karamoja region to enable farmers grow crops and cater to the needs of their animals during dry seasons.

A farmer in Uganda's Nakasongola District explains how their adoption of drip irrigation system has improved harvests from their potato farm. Photo Credit: Lominda Afedraru

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