KALUNGU — The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO,) last week, launched two solar-powered irrigation systems in Kalungu District. The projects are part of efforts to strengthen the resilience of rural populations and agricultural production systems through the provision of water for irrigation in the cattle corridor districts.
FAO, in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries – MAAIF has been implementing a Global Climate Change Alliance (GCCA) Project on agriculture adaptation to climate change in Uganda since 2012 — through the establishment of small scale irrigation systems in the Central Cattle Corridor districts of Mubende, Nakasongola, Luwero, Kiboga, Nakaseke, Sembabule, Kalungu and Rakai amongst others, to help farmers cope with harsh climatic conditions by sustaining all-season crop production, but mainly during the dry seasons. Residents in Bugomola A, Lwebenge Sub County, and Mabuyenzo village in Kalungu District were the first beneficiaries of the small-scale micro irrigation system in the greater Masaka.
Agriculture Minister – Vincent Ssempijja and Dr. Antonio Querido – the FAO Country Representative in Uganda, jointly launched the solar-powered irrigation systems, last week. The area has been prone to water shortage, especially during drought spells, affecting both domestic and commercial agricultural activities. The system is, according to Dr. Querido, part of FAO and the government of Uganda’s efforts to build capacities of communities and farmers to cope with climate change and strengthen the resilience of rural populations and agricultural production systems through the provision of water for irrigation, particularly in districts vulnerable to drought and climate variability.
In Bugomola A, for instance, the Ugx260m solar-powered irrigation project will provide water for the four-acre Lwabenge Integrated Group garden. “Agriculture in the cattle corridor region of Uganda is rain-fed and highly dependent on local weather conditions. This means that farming activities have to be put on hold during the dry season. “With the new sprinkles system, we are certain that farmers will have access to water for dry season agricultural activities,” said Dr. Querido. The FAO boss noted further that the system will not only increase agricultural production and returns to small-scale farmers, but will also improve the living conditions of the rural population. Minister Ssempijja commended FAO for ‘changing lives of my people,’ adding that the solar irrigation systems in Kalungu will serve as a demonstration of modern agricultural practices to small-scale farmers. The Minister exclusively told this reporter that historically, the government had been more engaged in promoting large-scale irrigation for commercial farmers due to a limited understanding of the business cases for small-scale irrigation. He said that access to irrigation will provide farmers with a more reliable income since one farm can produce several yields a year. “Many will be ready in three months, which means farmers can gather three or four harvests in a year,” he said. FAO engineer Mr. Denis Besigye said solar was a great fit with irrigation, because on days when plants need the most water, ‘you get the most water out of the pump.’ The engineer advised farmers’ groups to the advantage of the available opportunity of solar irrigation systems in their areas to change their lives as well as vigorously guarding the facilities against vandalism, noting that each facility cost FAO about Ugx 260m. Josephine Namagga Muwanga, a member of the beneficiary group in Lwabenge-Bugomola said for tomato cultivation, timely irrigation was vital – cautioning that even missing one day could severely affect the crop quality and yield. She said her group had depended on expensive diesel generators for irrigation – a scenario that presented one of the biggest challenges to the farmers. The solar irrigation systems in Kalungu are some of such other similar projects under construction in 13 other districts in the cattle corridor. In addition, other schemes such as biogas construction are being done in the same area to support local communities. In reference to Uganda solar water pumping report 2019, the ratio of cultivated area under irrigation to Uganda’s irrigation potential is lower than the Sub Saharan Africa average at only 0.5 percent, whereas approximately 15 percent of the country’s surface area is covered by freshwater sources.
The land under irrigation in Uganda is almost exclusively under large-scale projects. However, the national focus is increasingly shifting towards smaller projects, driven by a combination of demographics and rural realities.