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Nwoya Farmers Cut Losses, Drop Maize Crop

NWOYA – Poor harvests of maize last year  has done more than shatter the hopes of Nwoya farmers as they quit planting the crop altogether.

Nwoya Cassava and Rice Growers Cooperative Society Limited has announced its farmers have suspended planting maize following a poor harvest last season.

Bosco Lunyon, a member of the cooperative, told theCooperator  the group planted 11 acres of maize of Longe 5 and 10 varieties last year, and harvested less than half of the projected yield.

Lunyon said they harvested 30 bags of maize out of the projected 100 from 11 acres.

“This poor harvest got us asking questions, and an extension worker told us that the seeds we planted were of poor quality, whose grains were only good to be eaten when fresh, but not dried and stored owing to its low output,” Lunyon said.

This loss compounded the cooperative’s struggle with low priced rice this season, and the ravaging effect of the cassava brown streak disease, which has forced the Nwoya farmers to put cassava growing on hold.

Dr. Alfred Kumakech, a research officer at NARO, said issues of seeds, especially hybrids remain a challenge because sometimes they are recycled by farmers. 

“If they are hybrid maize seeds and they are being recycled then those are grains not seeds. Because the vigor of hybrid seeds decreases with each crop cycle.” he said.

“It is the seed companies that are supposed to produce the quality seeds and sell, but when one buys the hybrid produced by fellow farmers, then the vigor is lost and the productivity is also very low,” Dr. Kumakech told theCooperator.

“I planted an acre of Bazoka maize and got 18 bags. So that loss for the cooperative was heavy. Because with good management, you can get not less than 10 bags from one acre of maize,” he said.

Dr. Kumakech advised cooperative members to get the right seeds if they want to incorporate maize in their business, and use fertilizers because most hybrid seeds require very fertile soils.

“For those who have issues with fertilizers, we also have other conventional maize seeds, which are not hybrid OPV. OPV like Longe 5D is very good for those who cannot afford fertilizers and other inputs,” Dr. Kumakech said.

Jonathan Katende, an extension worker with Sasakawa Africa Association, said accessing quality seeds is a big problem throughout the country, because Uganda’s seed system is largely informal.  

The formal seed distributors, Katende said, are few, and their distribution network is not well developed, so farmers in remote areas find challenges accessing their seeds.

“During the good old days when we used to have strong cooperatives and organized farmers’ associations, the movement of inputs would be made through cooperatives and even the smallest farmers in the village could get the seeds,” Katende said.

“But now, most farmers are fighting on their own. Nwoya Cassava and Rice Growers is a cooperative that is not yet developed to the level of ordering seeds from these seed companies,” he said.

Katende estimates that only about 20 percent of farmers in Uganda can access quality seeds.

“The main alternative is Operation Wealth Creation (OWC), but it [OWC] is still inadequate, because they target only big farmers,” he said. 

A recent study in Uganda found that very few of the available hybrid maize seeds improve crop yields because some are counterfeit or farmers use poor-quality inputs such as fertilizers. Only 2 % of small holder farmers, according to the same study, use inorganic fertilizers, while majority of the fertilizers are substandard. 

Agricultural experts say demonstration plots across Africa have shown that improved seeds can improve yields. However, the prevalence of poor-quality seeds compounded by fake fertilizers, means buying improved seeds does not guarantee higher yields. 

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