About 60 young farmers from Masaka, Lwengo, Kalungu, Bukomansimbi and Rakai converged in Masaka to share experiences and to assess their progress in farming since they completed their agricultural training, which was conducted by Kitovu Mobile, an anti-HIV/Aids organisation under Masaka Catholic Diocese. The meeting was a follow up to one held in December last year.
Kitovu Mobile under its Orphans Family Support Programme began teaching agricultural skills to teens orphaned by HIV/Aids in 1998 to make them economically self-reliant.
Former students meet periodically to compare notes about their experiences. Also present at the meeting were District Agriculture Officers, civil society organisation leaders, and members of the press.
Ismail Bitone from Kitanda Sub-county in Bukomansimbi District who became a coffee farmer said his biggest challenge was the coffee twig borer, a pest that destroys coffee twigs and branches.
“I physically remove the diseased twigs and burn them to kill the pests,” he told the meeting. “I also resorted to spraying with a pesticide known as Striker which worked very well for me. Another important step I took was to keep my garden free of all weeds.”
He also advised the other coffee farmers to grow food crops such as tomatoes and Irish potatoes to diversify their income, to keep livestock to get manure and earn more money from livestock products.
“It saves money to keep livestock since as a farmer you don’t have to spend money on fertilisers from shops.”
Martin Nsamba from Ndagwe Sub-county, Lwengo District, who became a vegetable farmer, emphasised the need for the young farmers to be economical with the money earned from farming.
They should spend it on such items as tarpaulins to trap rainwater for irrigation and settling agricultural loans instead of smart phones and other luxuries.
However this was disputed by Bitone who said that modern farmers need efficient communication gadgets to catch up with new developments in farming.
“A farmer should be able to surf the internet to get information on crop diseases and how to overcome them, and a smart phone is just the equipment for a modern farmer to have,” he argued.
Munyolo Aganze, a fruit grower from Kyannamukakaaka Sub-county in Masaka District said that his greatest challenge is lack of a water pump for irrigation.
The same challenge had been presented by Mr George Katambala from Kabira Sub-county in Rakai District.
Noeline Nakayenga from Butende Village in Bukulula Sub-county Kalungu District amused fellow farmers when she disclosed that she had chosen to grow coffee because she wanted to earn as much money as the men. She said that for long coffee has been falsely regarded as a man’s crop and she was out to change that.
Godfrey Kisekka from Bulando Village, Buwunga Sub-county in Masaka District, said he bought the wrong coffee seedlings on which he had spent a lot of energy. He uprooted the trees because they did not deliver the high yields he expected.
He tasked the district agriculture officers to explain why Naads gives out “Elite Robusta coffee” seedlings to farmers when they are not as high yielding as “Cloned Robusta coffee”. He pointed out that many input shops stock counterfeit inputs and wondered why such traders are not dealt with. He revealed that as the leader of a farmers’ group he was challenged by failure to satisfy the market of passion fruits.
“I got buyers from Busia District,” he said. “But then after sometime other buyers from Kenya who had tasted our passion fruits came asking us to sell to them also but we cannot provide them with enough.”
However, Deus Mujuni, the Bukomansimbi Agriculture Officer, told the youths not to imagine that the government can afford everything that the farmers need. He said the reason it provides “Elite Robusta coffee” seedlings was mainly lack of sufficient money to produce as many cloned seedlings.
Saulo Kityo from Masaka District Production Department advised the youth to keep receipts for all products that they buy so that they can help agriculture offices to trace the culprits and prosecute them.
Dr George William Ssekanwagi, acting Bukomansimbi District Production Officer, told the young farmers that the government has come up with the idea of recruiting a District Engineer for Water and Irrigation in each district as one of the measures to overcome Climate Change effects on agriculture.
He said that the issue of providing water pumps to farmers groups was bound to be addressed as the government was taking Climate Change seriously.
“The agriculture extension service providers we have are not specialists in irrigation and water management issues and that is the reason it has become necessary to recruit water engineers.”
Nalongo Kivumbi, a marriage counsellor from Bikira Catholic Parish, told the youths to be transparent in their farming households and to observe gender equity.
“Make sure that you are open to your spouses about all your farming financial transactions and create a sense of common ownership of all your family enterprises,” she told them. “If you are the type of husband who leaves home and the wife refuses to feed the cow because it does not belong to her then you cannot go very far with farming.
If you spend the money earned from the farm on drinking and women, the wife will lose the morale to work and your farm will eventually collapse.
Michael J Ssali