The Covid-19 lockdown, ban on fishing on Lake Kyoga and lack of market for sugarcane has forced farmers in Buyende and Kamuli districts to return to cotton growing.
Cotton, which used to be a major cash crop, has slightly gained market due to demand for fabrics, lint for making surgical wool, surgical gauze, cooking oil, classified types of papers, animal and poultry feeds, among others.
“Cotton used to be our gold, but the sugarcane curse coupled with the ban on fishing, has made people rediscover cotton,” Mr Emmanuel Babalanda, a resident, said at the weekend.
Mr Douglas Boshopo, the National Seed Inspector at Uganda Cotton Development Organisation (UCDO), said the lockdown has given farmers more time.
“The lockdown has been a blessing in that it has given farmers time to isolate themselves in the gardens, meaning more labour force has been injected into the agriculture and we are set for productive engagement towards reviving the cotton industry,” Mr Boshopo said.
He said besides mobilising farmers to embrace cotton growing, the UCDO trains them on management, readies itself for accelerated cotton with improved and early maturing varieties (QM 301, MS2, SZ and BPA 2015), popularly known as Alba-Plus QM 301, certified and introduced by National Agricultural Research Organisation .
These, he added, are distributed to farmers through regional coordinators, and reckons this time, cotton is going to be grown in two seasons like maize.
“The first season will be between April and May, and the second between late August and September. We hit the road, the seeds were delivered to the distribution centres through regional coordinators and farmers literarily fought for the seeds,” he said.
Dr Fred Kabbale, the Buyende production officer, said with the prisons’ sector leading the cotton growing in large scale, farmers have also returned to the cash crop and challenged government to make prices attractive and provide market for the cotton to boost its revival.
“With many cotton growing countries been disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic, the farm gate prices mayshoot up from last year’s gate price of Shs1,400 per kilogramme and serve as a huge incentive to farmers,” Mr Kabbale said.
Mr James Mpaulo, a cotton agriculture extension field officer and farmer, attributed the decline in cotton growing to its cost benefit analysis, saying cotton is labour-intensive.
“People can no longer afford cash crops given the limited gardens; so they opt for crops that conserve both food security and income,” Mr Mpaulo said.
He further explained that before, cotton served to ‘clear gardens’ and after harvest, farmers would instead plant millet, simsim, potatoes or groundnutssince it was already cleared.