Map of Uganda. Areas visited were northwest of Kampala; southeast of Gulu; and south east of Soroti. Source: Oxford Cartographers.
Barbara Mugwanya Zawedde (Horticulture and ESPP) is in Uganda conducting an environmental risk assessment for potential introduction of transgenic sweetpotato in Uganda. As part of her study, she conducted on-farm visits in eastern, central, and northern parts of the country to understand how farmers utilize and conserve the local sweetpotato diversity. Read about her experience below.
Currently climate change is a controversial topic, with a lot of debate on whether it is happening. While farmers in Uganda cannot provide sufficient evidence to decide the matter, they agree that the weather patterns have changed tremendously. This has resulted in substantial reduction in productivity of Uganda’s agriculture, which is 97% rain-fed. Other evidence for the change in weather patterns is the loss of crop biodiversity. Some sweet potato varieties that have been grown for decades in various regions are now lost due to extreme weather. Many farmers in Uganda have mixed feelings about the year 2011.
In the past, in most parts of Uganda, the rainy season generally lasted from March through May, with a shorter rainy season occurring in October and November. While many humanitarian organizations have reported “the year 2011 as the driest period in the Eastern Horn of Africa since 1995”, I received a different story when I visited farmers in northern and eastern Uganda. All farmers visited indicated that this year they had received a longer rainy season, from February until December 2011. Because of the rain, farmers were optimistic that they would get higher yields for certain crops such as root crops. However, the high precipitation also resulted in increased pests and disease, especially close to the harvesting period of crops like legumes. This resulted in reduced yield and lower quality due to high moisture content of the produce at harvesting.
A crop field destroyed by the late-August heavy rains in eastern Uganda. Photo by New Vision.
Most importantly, the torrential rains and flooding received by some parts of the country resulted in mudslides in eastern Uganda in late August, which killed over 80 people and destroyed large amounts of property, including animals and crop fields. Many parts of the rural areas had roads destroyed by the heavy rains; this worsened the impact on farmers because of the pre-market losses. During my field trips, I used some such roads which was a scary experience because sometimes these were bridges over deep water and many lives (including that of a very dear friend) have been lost due to sinking vehicles. Thanks to the four-wheel vehicle we were using, we got home safe.
Farmers I interacted with during my on-farm visits also informed me that in the past they had more predictable weather patterns that allowed them to design specific calendars for planting, weeding and harvesting their fields every season. But in the recent past, the calendar dates are no longer reliable, and therefore farmers are now resorting to indigenous knowledge that has been passed on from generation to generation for predicting the weather: for example listening to sounds by specific birds. However, these signs are less reliable due to disappearance of some of those bird species, so they requested that the government strengthen the capacity of the meteorological services so that they can provide more reliable weather forecasts and more timely early warnings.
The interaction with the farmers indicated that farmers are still very hopeful that scientists will help them become more resilient to the changes in weather patterns.
A vehicle carrying agricultural produce stuck on a road in Soroti. Photo by Dan Opolot.