By Don Wanyama
When our elders said “what an old man can see while seated, a young man will not see while standing”, they actually knew that no amount of schooling would replace knowledge gained out of experience. And they were right.
Towards the end of October last year, President Museveni after listening to incessant cries from farmers across the country about the prolonged dry season that had affected the second season, he took to demonstrating a simple yet effective method of giving crops a lifeline.
The President who had just acquired 24 acres of land in Kawumu village, Mawale parish of Makulubita Sub-county in Luweero District (he chose Luweero for obvious historic reasons) decided to show farmers that using the simplest of resources like used water bottles, bicycles and tapping into water streams or ponds, they could actually irrigate their crops and beat off the menacing sunshine.
This is why on the morning of October 31st, 2016, President Museveni rode a bicycle, fetched water from a well and practically demonstrated how drip irrigation works. The reaction at that time was mixed. Our largely elitist political and social commentators sitting in their air-conditioned Kampala offices had a field day making fun of the President’s demonstration.
The leader of a limping opposition party in a weekly newspaper column heaped scorn on President Museveni, labelling him “the water carrier of Luweero” before alleging that the whole idea was “populist and cheap political drama choreographed and rehearsed by the President’s image makers”. The common thread running in these criticisms was that the President was simply pulling a stunt and that whatever he was doing was bound to fail.
But like they say, time tells. This week, President Museveni went back to Kawumu to assess the progress of the venture he started in October. Five months down the road, there is no doubt the drip irrigation worked wonders. The coffee trees, bananas and onions survived the drought. Those who have had the chance to see the images in the New Vision (or can visit the President’s Facebook page; Yoweri Kaguta Museveni) will agree that indeed “President Museveni while seated was seeing what many could not see while standing”. This time round, President Museveni placed emphasis on mulching, again doing a practical demonstration of how it should be done before elucidating its benefits.
In the “noise” of last October, certain deliberate distortions were made by the President’s critics, which we must now correct. The first claim was that President Museveni rather than promote mechanized agriculture had opted to promoting rudimentary methods of farming. This is not true. What the government is doing is a multi-pronged approach to agriculture development.
In showing how drip irrigation works, President Museveni, who is a realistic leader unlike many of his idealistic critics, was speaking to the small, unsophiscated farmers who needed basic techniques to beat off the drought. And I am sure for those who listened, they must be celebrating now.
Days after the Kawumu demonstration, on November 5th, 2016, to be exact, President Museveni visited the farm of Charles Rutaroh in Bukinda Sub-county, Rukiga County of Kabale District. Rutaroh had been picked by President Museveni to pilot a solar-powered irrigation system on his two-acre fruit farm. The results were impressive as Rutaroh now earns close to Shs45 million annually from his farm largely aided by solar-powered irrigation.
The ministry of agriculture and sister agencies are now working on a bigger scheme to roll out solar-powered irrigation to several parts of the country including Masindi, Kiryandongo, Soroti, Katakwi, Mukono and Luuka districts.
But even as this is underway, government is supporting mechanization in other different ways. A fortnight ago, President Museveni launched a pasture improvement project in Mbarara and at the same occasion distributed tractors to farmers under Operation Wealth Creation programme. This same arrangement will be spread across the country.
With all these interventions ongoing, the President keeps reminding Ugandans to leave wetlands since it’s that encroachment that partly explains the drought scare we faced recently. Cognizant of the how land has been fragmented by families, he also keeps appealing to families not to share land but rather the proceeds of the land. It is the only way to beat fragmentation.
The Kawumu Presidential Farm will now be open to the public. Those interested in learning some basic and yet efficient agriculture practices are most welcome to visit. The President besides the crops has added a mushroom growing section, fish ponds and a dairy section to the farm. The doubting Thomases are also welcome to see that indeed drip irrigation was not mere posturing. Like the President told the journalists, “Abalibaseka bajje bandabe” (Those who mocked me should come see me now).
The writer is the Senior Press Secretary to His Excellency the President
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