Much of Uganda’s agriculture is rainfall dependent. However, due to climate change and variability, crop growing seasons have shown more erraticism in onset and length of growing period, often resulting in reduced yields or total crop failure. In response to this, Uganda National Meteorological Authority (UNMA) periodically provides seasonal climate forecast. The forecast has been found to be limited in interpretation, understanding and use by stakeholders and consequently with support from GIZ project “THE DEVELOPMENT AND DISEMINATION OF OPTIMUM CROPPING CALENDAR FOR BEANS, MILLET AND MAIZE DERIVED FOR RAIN-FED AGRICULTURE IN FOUR RAINFALL ZONES OF UGANDA” and USAID PROJECT “ENHANCING RESILIENCE OF AGRICULTURAL LIVELIHOODS”, the national Agricultural research organization (NARO) has developed an online cropping calendar tool that would contribute towards stakeholder’s interpretation and understanding of a forecasted season.

The cropping calendar tool is derived from analyzing variability in rainfall onset, cessation and length of the potential crop growing season based on historical time-series data (1961 to 2016) a contribution from UNMA. Seasonal onset and cessation dates and length of cropping season are generated Using INSTAT software. The standard deviation of the generated characteristics then defines the windows of onset and cessation respectively. The difference between the two dates is the potential crop growing period. The analogue year of the forecasted season can be read directly from the tool thus guiding the user on the probable behavior of the forecasted season based on the analogue year.  After the stakeholder receives the forecast from ICPAC and UNMA, then they can use the tool to discern seasonal rainfall performance from the tool.

 The cropping calendar tool therefore helps in interpretation of the forecast by profiling the probable seasonal characteristics of the analogue year and this   helps in climate smart agricultural decision-making. Only three (maize, beans and millet) crops have been used in validating the tool through multi-seasonal rigorous field trials set up in only four rainfall zones of Uganda. It is anticipated that in future more crops and more rainfall zones will be added to tool. 

The tool also provides advisories on crop agronomic management including when to prepare fields, start planting, weeding, apply manure/mulch, harvesting, and post-harvest activities, developed in conjunction with MAAIF.  These advisories are based on agro-meteorological data and information throughout a forecasted season. The tool can be updated regularly on a seasonal scale.

In its current format, the tool is meant to benefit agricultural extension workers, researchers, and large-scale / commercial farmers that can interpret the outputs from the tool for timely farming decisions. It will also help MAAIF to develop advisories for agricultural planning. However, the tool needs continuous piloting and refinement to make it in sync with smallholder farmers’ farming activities.

Key words:  

Optimum cropping calendar for Millet, Maize and beans, Meteorology, climate change, responsive tool, climate smart agriculture and how the meteorology part is linked to crop productivity, yield increase 


Farmers in Africa are faced with a number of challenges that lead to infertile soils, which in turn affect farm productivity. Some arise as a result of factors such as soil erosion, soil silting, lack of crop rotation, prolonged droughts and low fertiliser use, among others.

Stakeholders from the public and private sectors are partnering to sensitise farmers on how they can keep soils fertile for improved agricultural production.

Reach out

One of the partners is Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa (Agra), which focuses on soil health as critical for biodiversity.

The programme aims at reaching four million smallholder farmers in 13 countries where it is being implemented. These include Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, Ghana, Mali, Niger, Nigeria and Burkina Faso.

Dr Bashir Jama, the programme director, says carbon content of soil is a key indicators of its health and a master variable that controls many of these processes. It largely governs their capacity to absorb, retain and supply moisture and to sustain active plant growth. Every gram of carbon in soil can retain up to eight grams of water. It promotes the sustained production of essential food and fibre as well as the capacity of plants and animals to resist disease, insect infestation and climate stresses.

Change practices

Increased soil carbon levels therefore also have the means to reduce reliance on costly fossil fuels and other farm inputs. However, current rates of soil erosion by wind and water across much of Africa now exceeds soil formation. It is because farmers across the globe are ignoring soil health issues. This is why 2015 was declared as International Year of Soils. 

Dr George Bigirwa, the associate director, Programme for Africa’s Seed Systems, in Agra, explains that land management practices can either accelerate or moderate soil degradation. Therefore, farmers need to change their practices to reverse the current trend. For example, ploughing was seen as good agricultural practice for thousands of years.  However, it is now known that the more often land is ploughed, the faster it loses essential organic matter and the biological activity it supports.

Zero and minimal tillage practices are being encouraged. There is the need to focus on more than use of conventional fertilisation programmes but ensure the structural, mineral and biological health of soils. This is in order to receive all the benefits that healthy soil can provide. Practices such as use of organic matter in soils, mulching and other farm inputs such as fertiliser are important. Farmers are expected to focus on adopting farming practices that reduce erosion and improve water use efficiency, such as lightly tilling the soil without turning over the earth or growing crops in terraced fields that efficiently collect and conserve rainwater.

The statistics of farm production in Africa compared to the developed world show quite a big difference as a result of farmers failing to manage their soil health. While farmers in many parts of the world regularly harvest up to five tonnes of maize per hectare (about 2.5 acres), African farmers typically harvest one tonne.  


The statistics compiled by Agra experts indicate that in Rwanda and Uganda, scientists blame nutrient mining for banana yields that are five to 30 tons per hectare when it should be around 70 tonnes. Cassava yields in Ghana average 10-12 tonnes per hectare when it should be at 40-60 tonnes. Overall, soil health issues are costing African farmers $4b annually in lost crop productivity. 

Dr Cranmer Kayuki Kayizzi, a soil scientist at National Research Laboratories (NaLRI) in Kawanda, explains that the common belief that Ugandan soils are fertile is no longer true because the land has been over-tilled thereby rendering it less productive.

Depend on soil

Farmers in Uganda are advised to carry out a particular farming activity for three years while applying an inorganic fertiliser such as urea, DAP and NPK as well as organic fertiliser like manure. Thereafter, the land should be left to fallow for three years before it is utilised for planting.

Short-term fallow practices are allowed and this involves planting legume crops, which fix nitrogen in the soil. In light of UN observance of December 5 of every year as World Soils Day, it should be noted that people all over the world depend on soil as major resource which provides food to the population. This therefore means all stakeholders should be involved in sensitisation of farmers to engage in best farming practices in order to maintain soil fertility.

Most people who know about Uganda and its natural resources have the impression that the country is blessed with fertile soils. Yet this is contrary to what soil scientists have found.
A study done by National Agricultural Research Laboratories (NARL) Kawanda shows that Uganda faces severe soil nutrient depletion. This is because many farmers keep tilling the land over and over again without applying practices that maintain soil fertility.

Calculate the amount
Therefore, it is recommended that small holder farmers should maximise fertiliser use alongside organic manure to improve soil nutrients. 
The most important ingredients required to increase soil fertility are Nitrogen, Potassium and Phosphorous (NPK). Other secondary components include calcium, magnesium, sulphur, copper, iron, manganese and zinc. 
The scientists have come up with Uganda Fertiliser Optimisation Tool (FOT). It is computer-based tool used to calculate the required amount of fertiliser as per the monetary fund allocated for a specific agricultural activity per unit hectare. It also indicates what a farmer will earn from the output invested.
NARL is working on this project with University of Nebraska. In US, the FOT has been applied by farmers and has worked well.

The profit
Dr Cranmer Kayuki Kaizi from NARL, explains that what is considers the land area the farmer wishes to plant for a particular crop and expected commodity value at harvest, the cost of fertiliser and the finance available to the farmer for purchase of fertiliser.
The profitability varies greatly depending on which nutrient is applied to which crop and at what rate. 
FOT was developed for crops such as sorghum, beans, rice, groundnuts and maize. Currently, the team is in the process of developing this tool to cover other crops.
It is availed to extension workers who show farmers on how to calculate the fertiliser rate for a particular crop and estimate average yield and net returns.
The target is extension workers in various African countries: namely, there are Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Mozambique, Zambia, Malawi, Ethiopia, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Nigeria and Niger.

Guide farmers
Calculations are made with MS Excel, and a farmer will be able to know that if he or she applies 50kg of urea on one hectare, the yield will amount to 44kg of maize grain per hectare.
For the case of rice, if fertiliser is purchased amounts to $60 (Shs204,900) to the hectare, the farmer will be in position to reap $700 (Shs2,390,500) per hectare. Therefore, the tool enables farmers to apply fertiliser depending on the economic return.
The tool also helps guide the farmers on which crops to invest in and the fertilizer usage. In Uganda, it has been tried in Kapchorwa, Aleptong, Arua, Tororo, Sironko, Apac districts and it is to be introduced in Kisoro, Kabale and Ntungamo districts.
The implementing partners, CABI and NARL have trained Community Knowledge Based (CKB) trainers in Kapchorwa and Mbale district, where the software is loaded on mobile phones.

Increased yields
Sam Satya, the coordinator, explains that using FOT has advantages such as farmers with little cash at hand being in position to buy fertiliser at whatever quantity in a bid to get good yield. 
Farmers who growing other crops not covered by FOT are at a disadvantage because they are not able to make use of it.
So far, about 300 farmers in Mbale and Kapchorwa have adapted the FOT technology and they have realised increased yields.
Farmers have learnt which quantity of fertiliser to purchase for an acre of land because previously they were applying 50 kg of either urea or diammonium phosphate (DAP) on one acre. Yet, by applying FOT, a farmer can use 30 kg of urea and 12 kg of DAP for one acre and still reap better yields.

A farmer who used 50kg of urea would harvest eight bags of maize but now by using less quantity of urea, he or she can harvest 20 bags of maize. This means application of the tool is useful.
Farmers are advised to measure the fertiliser and mix it with soil per hole, and by the time it spread across the field and it rains, the fertiliser would have been absorbed.

Managing soil fertility

In case of farmers lack money to purchase fertiliser mainly urea and diammonium phosphate (DAP), they may grow legume crops, which fix nitrogen in the soil.
Cover crops such as Macuna, Chlotolaria and soya bean are key nitrogen-fixing crops that farmers are encouraged to grow during fallowing of their fields.
It is also advisable for farmers to embrace use of inorganic fertiliser like urea because 100kg of urea contains 46% nitrogen compared to 100kg of organic manure, which contains 1% nitrogen.
However, planting of legume crops is a good practice farmers that can apply in managing soil fertility.

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No genetically engineered crop is being grown in Uganda yet

By Wilberforce K. Tushemereirwe

Posted  Friday, October 9   2015 at  01:00

Recently, Daily Monitor published an opinion titled, “Future of Africa’s agriculture lies in sustainable green farming, not GMOs.” As the saying goes, “people are entitled to their opinions but not their own facts”, that is why I have written – to let the public know the truth and facts about genetic engineering in Uganda. 

The crops (maize, soy beans, cassava, bananas and groundnuts) claimed to be genetically modified and growing in West Nile are not GMOs. The decline in yields is due to a reduction in soil fertility resulting from continuous growing of crops in the same fields without replenishing nutrients, whereas pre-mature rotting of crops is due to new pests and diseases. There are no known ways of effectively dealing with the new pests and diseases other than the use of modern biotechnology methods such as genetic engineering. At Naro, we are undertaking research using these modern methods to develop crops that will overcome the new challenges but we have not yet released any of the promising varieties. There is no genetically engineered crop or seed being grown in any part of the country yet. 
Genetic engineering is a method of improving crop productivity by either giving the crop the ability to naturally resist a disease, improve yields or boost the nutritional content of the crop in situations where traditional breeding methods are not possible. For instance at Kawanda, we are working on a banana variety that will resist the deadly bacterial wilt, which has wiped out plantations. We are also bio-fortifying matooke with pro-vitamin A, which the body turns into vitamin A as needed to strengthen immunity against infections, especially in children and child bearing women who are more vulnerable. At Namulonge, our colleagues are developing cassava that will resist the brown streak disease, which causes rotting in cassava and maize that will tolerate drought. In all these cases, it is not possible to get a solution using traditional crop improvement methods. 
Naro has been at the forefront of improving agricultural productivity, so we have the farmer at the centre of all we do. For example, whenever, Naro releases a new variety, we give it out free to farmers and this will be the case with genetically engineered crops once research is completed. 
The genetically engineered crops will undergo testing to ensure safety both to humans and the environment and will only be released after approval by a competent regulatory body provided for in the biotechnology and biosafety Bill now under discussion.
Since GMO research is mostly public-sector funded, the issue of patent ownership by private companies will not arise. The farmers will only incur the cost of buying new seed just like they have been doing in the past. The choice of storing seed from a previous harvest or buying new seed is one an individual farmer will need to make.
Ugandans should not resist this technology simply because some Western countries have not accepted it. Let us not forget the countries that are resisting GMOs are food secure and are not grappling with pests and diseases for which traditional crop improvement solutions are not possible. The pests and diseases are constantly evolving but they do so faster in the tropics. Some western countries do not need GMOs but we do.
We are all interested in a constant supply of safe nutritious food and a healthy eco-system we can pass on to future generations. Currently, genetic engineering is the only solution to some farming challenges, so spreading false information defeats our common purpose.

Dr Tushemereirwe is the director of the National Agricultural Research Laboratories - Kawanda




By Peter Wamboga-Mugirya

A banana variety released only half a decade ago by National Agricultural Research Laboratories (NARL) Kawanda, which has various attributes farmers and consumers that highly desire, has had unprecedented pace of adoption.

"M-9" (the ninth matooke of the hybrid varieties in a series) or Kabana 6H, is known farmers as Kiwangaazi (meaning long life in Luganda). It is resistant to Black Sigatoka (BS) disease that attacks leaves, tolerant to nematodes and weevils--the two pests that damage stems and roots.

Rapid adoption

Dr. Jerome Kubiriba, the head of NARL's Banana Research programme, noted that M-9 has rapidly earned interest across the country among farmers, consumers and dealers in banana planting materials--even in the most unexpected places as northern Uganda.

"Since release of M-9 in 2010, there is an amazingly rapid adoption by farmers. It is because of its tolerance to weevils, nematodes and resistance to BS, which are the common challenges that render banana-growing a headache. This is especially in Buganda, Busoga and Busoga sub-regions, where climatic conditions are favourable for these pests and diseases."

Kiwangazi M9 Matooke for sale at KawandaHe also revealed that south-western Uganda produces an estimated 12 million tonnes, which is 60 percent of the national output, while the central and parts of the eastern Uganda produce 30 per cent.

"One reason why the Ankole sub-region produces more bananas than other sub-regions is the higher altitude it is located, where temperatures are cooler. Hence unfavourable to breeding, reproduction and multiplication of weevils, nematodes and fungus causing Black Sigatoka disease," the scientist explained.

The opposite is what pertains to Buganda, Bunyoro and Busoga, which are lower in altitude hence hotter and favourable to weevils, nematodes and BS infestations.

There is a rise in these in the three regions due to global warming, and therefore greater infection of the local banana varieties. Thus M-9, which is resistant/tolerant to the challenges, comes in handy to enable the farmers in Buganda, Bunyoro and Busoga to re-establish their banana plantations that have been affected.

M-9 is also highly sought-after by farmers in northern Uganda especially Lango and Acholi. The two regions have a significant presence of traditional banana-consuming and trading communities, such as Baganda, Bagisu, Batooro, Banyankore and Banyoro, who have settled for business, work in NGOs, central/local governments, and have also inter-married.

Kubiriba says M-9 is performing well in the two regions which are originally non-banana-growing. Traders in northern Uganda traders have good access to markets in Lira, Gulu, Soroti and Mbale towns.

However, he points out that the undoing is banana bacterial wilt (BBW), the top-banana killer disease in the Great Lakes region. "But we have used genetic engineering to introduce BBW-resistance in the M-9 variety. The genes for resistance have been extracted from green pepper and there are good signs of resistance in the early evaluation," Kubiriba said.

Dr David Talengera, a molecular biologist at NARL, says multi-locational trials of the anti-BBW genetically modified (GM) bananas will be carried out in different agro-ecological regions.

"These multi-locational confined field trials shall be established in Naro's Bulindi Zonal Research and Development Institute [Bulindi Zardi] and Mbarara Zardi in Hoima and Mbarara respectively."

The go-ahead for the trials was given by the National Biosafety Committee, the multi-professional and specialists' body that vets genetic engineering work at Uganda National Council for Science and Technology (UNCST).

On what M-9 looks like compared to ordinary banana varieties, Kubiriba says it bears a big bunch and has excellent cooking attributes--softens and has a sweet aroma. Due to wide-ranging stakeholder interest in, and easy adaptability of, M-9 bananas, NARL is currently applying biotechnology to enhance it with Pro-Vitamin A genes or beta carotene for better nutrition.

More beneficial

Dr Priver Namanya, head of the banana biofortification project at NARL, recently told members of National Farmers' Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology that the genes were extracted from an Asian banana known as Asupina, and from the African yellow maize.

"The biofortification is aimed at making the banana a more beneficial food so that instead of a consumer gaining only water, starch and carbohydrates, we want to enable Ugandan banana consumers to get Vitamin A, too. Children should especially benefit more, by gaining improved sight and brain development at early age."

Kubiriba notes conventional and genetic engineering to breed bananas can be used to produce even better products like resistance to BBW.

"Already M-9 has resistance to fusarium wilt, another fungal disease that can reduce yields to zero. It was responsible for wiping out bogoya from the world market. That is why a more resistant variety of banana related to bogoya, called Cavendish was adopted as a quick gap-filling measure but it isn't as tasty as bogoya."

What is m-9 variety?

The M-9, is a hybrid between Calcutta--an India-originated banana (which possesses lots of resistance to most tropical pests and diseases) and an East African Highland Banana (EAHB) variety which is among the Ugandan local types.

M-9 was bred by a team led by NARL's current director, Prof Wilberforce Tushemereirwe, and included scientists from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA).

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About the National Agricultural Research Laboratories (NARL)

  • Welcome message from the Director
  • Research Programmes:
  • Core Values of NARL


Formerly a rubber estate, the institute was acquired in 1934 from K. Borup, a Danish farmer. It became the headquarters of research division of the Department of Agriculture in 1937 with a mandate to conduct research on coffee, tea, cotton and native food crops. The 630 hectare station located13km north of Kampala became the hub for scientific investigations for African agriculture to make it more productive and economically viable.

The institute has undergone several transformations both in naming and core research mandates and activities over the years. Currently, it is one of the six National Agricultural Research Institutes (NARIs established by the NAR Act 2005) under the dispensation of the National Agricultural Research organization.

Our Mandate

Conducting research and providing services on soils, agro-meteorology and Environment; bananas; biosystems and agricultural engineering; food science and agribusiness; and biodiversity and biotechnology

Our Goal:  Agricultural productivity and household incomes increased through use of improved technologies and practices

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  Research Programmes:

Implementation of activities is organized in five research programmes and an information and documentation unit supported by an administration unit:

  • Soils, Agro-meteorology and Environment Research Programme,
  • Banana Research Programme,
  • Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering Research Programme,
  • Food Biosciences and Agribusiness Research Programme,
  • Biodiversity and Biotechnology Programmes.

Hosted institutions:

  • International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA)
  •   International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT)
  •   Korean Project on International Agriculture (KOPIA)
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Core Values of NARL:

  • Excellence
  • Accountability
  • Market responsiveness
  • Client oriented
  • Demand driven
  • Sustainability
  • Integrity
  • Gender sensitivity
  • Transparency
  • Environment consciousness

Institute expected outputs

NARL’s activities are premised on the following outputs:

  • Tools, recommendations and technologies for improved soil and water management, sustainable land use and resilience to climate change
  • Improved banana varieties and other technologies for enhancing banana productivity and utilization
  • Technologies and practices that enhance conservation and utilization of genetic resources
  • Processes, systems and products that enhance market value of agricultural commodities
  • Biosystems and agricultural engineering products that improve agricultural production efficiency
  • Impact at specified sites created through multi-stakeholder innovation platforms
  • Information systems that support agricultural research and development
  • World class infrastructure and management systems that strengthen generation and promotion of outputs
Read More


To be a centre of excellence generating and promoting appropriate agricultural technologies


To generate and promote agricultural technologies and improve productivity, value addition, income and food security

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