Towards the end of the second quarter of this year, Uganda experienced a prolonged dry-spell after rains expected to start in March-April up to May-June did not come in sufficient amounts.
The drought has affected many parts of the country, with farmers saying they have incurred heavy losses caused by poor germination, especially of cereals which constitute most diets in Uganda.
In Teso Sub-region, for instance, the drought withered gardens, vanishing any hopes of a good harvest .
Ms Stella Alapo, resident of Obur Village, Kaberamaido District, said her groundnuts gardens have dried up, and there is a high possibility of her making losses.
“In a good season, one would expect more than 10 bags of groundnuts,” she said, adding that her maize and sorghum gardens have suffered the same fate because of the heatwave.
Mr Geoffrey Omollo, the Katakwi District chairperson, told Daily Monitor that a looming food crisis is imminent because shortly into the planting season, the rain stopped falling.
“I moved around monitoring the magnitude of the situation, and in almost all sub-counties, what is on ground is worrying,” Mr Omollo said, adding that for now, farmers are banking on second rains.
In Kumi, the district production officer, Mr Rajab Ogogolo, said there is little hope that farmers may gain anything from this season’s toil.
He advised that as a precautionary measure, when rains return, the farmers should cultivate crops that take a shorter period to mature.
In Bukedi Sub-region, farmers in Pallisa, Butebo and Budaka districts are also experiencing the same weather conditions.
Mr Sam Muguda, one of the farmers, said he expects a poor harvest due to the dry spell.
Mr James Mbiro, a resident of Kamonkoli Town Council in Budaka District, said there are signs of looming hunger.
“I hoped to have a bumper harvest but that dream has been shattered,” he said.
Mr Joshua Kabiji, a resident of Kabwangasi Sub-county in Butebo District, said after being laid off in April last year, he decided to concentrate on commercial farming .
Mr Kabiji was working as sales manager with one of the local-based companies dealing in agricultural produce, but was laid off in June last year due to the outbreak of Covid-19.
“I planted two acres of maize and beans but with this dry spell, I might not get what I wanted. I pray it rains,” he said.
Mr James Okurut, the district chairman, said many farmers have lost their crops.
“Most of the people in the district had hopes of earning a lot from their crops but their plans have been affected because of the dry spell,” he said.
He added that farmers are on the verge of losing more acres of crops such as maize, millet, beans, groundnuts, and rice if it does not rain.
Mr Mohammed Nakeba, the Kibuku District chairman, said the dry spell has sent the community into panic.
“Majority of our people are farmers but are now in a dry spell. This will be so disastrous,” Mr Nakeba said.
He advised farmers to grow fast-growing crops to prevent food shortage.
In Isingiro District, Mr Moses Muhereza, 35, a farmer from Rwekitoma, Nyamuyanja Sub-county, said he had planted an acre of beans hoping that March-April will be a rainy season.
Mr Elidad Mugyenyi, a farmer from Sanga in Kiruhura District, said cattle-keeping is no longer viable as a business and as a source of livelihood.
“Most people are beginning to sell their cows because there is no water for these animals as the pastures have dried up; it is those who have the capacity to pay for water tanks from River Rwizi in Mbarara District that are sure of seeing their animals survive,” Mr Mugyenyi said.
He, however, blamed the government for not putting up practicable solutions to help farmers.
“We have been facing this situation for years; they (government) promised us water in Sanga 10 years ago; why not provide cheap tractors for residents to dig dams?” Mr Mugyenyi asked.
Mr John Bashaija, a member of Mbarara Farmers’ Forum, urged government to create affordable irrigation technologies to ensure constant water supply.
In Busia District, farmers in Lunyo, Busime, Lumino, Majanji and Buhehe sub-counties are also on the verge of facing food shortage.
Mr Fred Wakapisi, the district production officer, said farmers who had planted maize and beans are the most affected.
“The season has been characterised by erratic rain, causing crops to wither and leaving farmers on the brink of no harvest and food shortage,” Mr Wakapisi said.
He added that in some areas, farmers have cut down their withered maize to feed their livestock .
“This season is gone because the rains have been so bad that all the crops, especially in the sub-counties near lakeshores have withered,” Mr Wakapisi said.
He is, however, optimistic that rains will be stable in the next season.
“We are banking on the coming season but if rains remain unstable, we shall have no option but to write to the Office of the Prime Minister for relief,” he said.
In Bugweri District, the situation has not been as gloomy because farmers who planted in early February have successfully got good yields, especially for cereals such as maize and rice, the district agriculture officer, Ms Harriet Nguna, said.
“Those that are being affected are the ones who planted late; I, therefore, encourage our farmers to always plant at onset of rains,” she said.
Mr John Mutsibe, the chairperson of Lyantonde Dairy Farmers Association, attributed the prolonged dry spells to low rainfall in most parts of greater Masaka .
According to Mr Mutsibe, although they still have water in many valley dams , they lack pasture for their livestock .
“It is becoming difficult to feed our animals. It is only those who prepared hay who are not affected ,” he said.
Ms Irene Namaganda, a resident of Lyantonde Town Council, planted 30kgs of beans but harvested less than half of that. “The rain season is unpredictable. I planted 30kgs of beans but only got 12kgs after spending a lot of money on transport and garden preparation,” Ms Namaganda said.
Mr Wilber Ndawula, a farmer in Buyamba Village, Ddwaniro Sub-county in Rakai District, said although the first planting season usually starts in March and lasts until June, this year, the rain started late in April and ceased in May, leaving most crops vulnerable to the scorching sun .
“The change in rain patterns has affected our crops such as beans , maize and coffee . Government had promised to give us small solar powered irrigation systems, but they are not forthcoming ,” he said.
Counting on next season
Mr Bashir Busulwa, a farmer in Bukomansimbi District, said all their hopes are now hinged on the September –December planting season.
“ The damage has already been done and we cannot save anything even if we get rain now . We are now praying for the next season ,” he said.
Mr Sula Kutesa , a cereal farmer in Lwabenge Sub-county , Kalungu District, said his three-acre plantation of maize withered one month after germination.
“ I have incurred huge losses because I spent money on labour, seeds and other inputs .It is unfortunate that the rain did not come in sufficient amounts ,” he said.
According to Mr Robert Kanyete, the chairperson of a livestock association in Rakai District, since part of Lake Kijanebarola dried up at Kalunga landing site , many farmers trek long distances to get water for their animals.
Farmer benefits from govt irrigation project
Mr Ephraim Kamugisha,a farmer in Kakibandi Village, Lyantonde Sub-county, has not incurred any loss because he benefited from the government pilot project on irrigation. “I irrigate my coffee, plant vegetables that I sell in hotels and maintain my banana plantation, I dug enough valley tanks that supply enough water to my animals in Kinuuka. I urge government to provide water for irrigation if farmers are to benefit from agriculture,” Mr Kamugisha said.
“National Water Sewerage Corporation should also be given a mandate to supply water for animals if we are to develop the agricultural sector,” he added.