More and more farmers in Uganda are taking on rice growing, both as a cash crop and staple food.
In some parts, for instance, eastern Uganda, rice is fast replacing food crops such as maize, cassava and potatoes. As cash earners, this is partly due to prices for crops like maize taking a plunge.
As food, diseases have attacked the crops leading to poor yields. A case in point is cassava mosaic diseases which has devastated cassava. So, rice emerges as an alternative that strikes the balance. But despite growing the crop, many farmers are not yet conversant with the proper agronomy practices required, which in turn lead to poor yields.
Hu Jianghua is the director of a Shs13bn rice project run by Zhong Industries, which aims to train Ugandan farmers on how to grow rice while Godfrey Okumu is general manager for the project.
The rice project, which acts as a model is located in Lukaya Town Council, Kalungu District, along the Masaka-Kampala highway.
Here, they give tips on rice growing tips to farmers who want to maximise their yields.
Jianghua, who is from China, the world's leading country in rice growing, points out that there more than 1,000 rice varieties grown in the world. However, farmers in Uganda grow mainly Kaiso, Super, NP3 and New rice for Africa (Nerica) varieties.
Okumu adds that Kaiso and Super rice varieties are suitably grown in wetlands or lowlands while Nerica and NP3 varieties are grown in the uplands. Before a farmer decides on what type of rice variety he/she will grow, a number of factors have to be taken into consideration.
These include: the type of soil that is lowland or upland, which variety is more marketable or is high yielding. Also, which the variety is high yielding or has big grains.
For instance, most consumers in Uganda prefer Kaiso and Super varieties because of the good aroma and taste plus good cooking qualities. Many consumers say Kaiso rice grains enlarge when cooked compared to other varieties.
On the other hand, Super rice has higher yields compared to the other varieties. In one acre, a farmer can get about 4,500kg of milled rice (4.5 tonnes).
Nursery bed preparation
The nursery bed should be made in an area, which is not water logged. However, he says, this does not mean that water is not needed. Water should only be taken to the nursery when needed and in controlled amounts. The first thing that a farmer has to do is to plough the land, which must be left for 15 days when NPK fertiliser is applied.
All plants need nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium to grow. Without sufficient amounts of any one of these nutrients, a plant will fail. In a 100 square metre area of land, 100kg of NPK should be applied.
After adding NPK, the soil should be tilled again, turned around to break it to make it even with small particles.
Then make lines in the prepared soil. The rice seeds should be soaked in a mixture of water, fungicides and pesticides. This must be done for 24 hours before planting. Then, they are placed in a warm place before planting in the nursery bed. A warm place helps them to germinate.
Two kilogrammes of seeds should be sown in a 10 square metre piece of land. The bed should be weed-free. The bed should be watered twice a day during dry periods. After 21-25 days, the seedlings are ready to transplant.
The seedlings should be placed in a container in which they are transported to the main garden. The seedlings should be planted in rows with spacing of 20 cm from row to row and 10 cm from plant to plant.
DAP or NPK fertiliser should be applied; this helps the seedlings to develop new roots for fast growth. After 25 days, it is advisable to apply urea, which helps the plants to grow healthy, strong and bear big rice grains
To control pests, apply pesticides and for fungi, fungicides should be used. Common pests such as stalk borer are controlled using pesticides.
Birds are one of the biggest burdens rice farmers face; they eat the grains. If not controlled, birds can cause yield losses of up to 90 per cent.
However, Jianghua says at the Zhong Industries project, they have devised simple methods to scare away the birds. They use empty mineral water bottles in which they place stones. The bottles are tied on strings which are suspended on poles. These are then placed around the field. When a person shakes the string at one point, it shakes all the bottles to make a sound that scares away the birds.
Rice is ready for harvest in 135-145 days, depending on the variety.
Simple tools such sickles are used to harvest rice, which is then dried and threshed. Drying should be done in a clean place in order to safeguard the quality of the rice.