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Restore, conserve wetlands to fight environmental degradationIf you have ever fetched clean water from a lake, river or any other natural water body you should probably thank a wetland. Wetlands, are like sponges, they hold this water, filter and purify it before sending it into water bodies.

February 2 is World Wetlands Day and a great opportunity to learn about the value and importance of wetlands to Ugandans.
With the theme – ‘Wetlands for Disaster Risk Reduction, Healthy Wetlands help to cope with extreme weather events.’ This wetlands day is not business as usual, it is a good time for us to reflect on how we can educate our children, our colleagues and our friends about the importance of wetlands.

Initially celebrated in 1997, this day is intended to remind us of our commitments under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands which was adopted in 1971. As a key party to this convention, Uganda is mandated to protect all its wetlands some of which have been approved as Ramsar sites. The 2030 Agenda and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals also provide us an opportunity to celebrate wetlands. The SDGs include various aimed at protecting life in the ocean, on land and on managing climate change.

If we are to leave no one behind as Uganda strives to develop, it is imperative for each of us to do everything we can to save wetlands wherever they are. Well managed wetlands ensure that communities are resilient and can bounce back from disasters faster. We must help conserve and promote sustainable use of wetlands as we support industrialisation and development.

Farmers and uncertain weatherThe rain season that was expected to begin in September last year in most parts of Uganda started quite late in mid-October 2016 and ended well before Christmas. Since then to date the country has undergone a biting dry spell that has destroyed crops and pasture. The great majority of farmers face tough times ahead but most importantly, the country faces severe food shortage and reduced national income.

The executive director of National Union of Coffee Agro-businesses and Farm Enterprises (Nucafe) Joseph Nkandu recently told Seeds of Gold that, due to the ongoing dry spell, Robusta coffee production may reduce by more than 40 per cent and we may not get the expected annual output. He said, “This translates into lower income for farmers and reduced foreign exchange earnings for the country.”

Due to the drought, there are no weeds growing in the fields and there is no harvesting going on for most households. Some people have prepared the ground and keep watching the sky for rain signs.

Many do not even know how to get the seeds when the rains begin. They have difficulties feeding their families and malnutrition is a real threat.

It is hard to feed livestock. Thousands have resorted to cultivating crops in wetlands where some water still exists but this is forbidden by the law. The practice is said to render wetlands dry.

We could be at the beginning of what looks likely to be a difficult process. Some religious leaders are holding public prayers for rain to fall. Government has increased its tree planting campaign.

Nakati is one of the vegetables which grows in a variety of soils and can perform for a long period of time compared to other vegetables say, tomatoes and cabbages. This implies that they can be readily available and are sustainable. Nakati requires less labour and is easy to grow because it does not involve a lot of technical agronomic practices. This crop serves a lot of nutrients for example minerals, vitamins A and C which are vital for vision. Due to the above, the QSA beneficiaries need this crop to improve on their diet which will lead to good health. The purpose of this training was to equip the farmers with the knowledge of growing nakati both on large and small scale (kitchen gardens) so as to improve on their diet.

 

Meaning of GAP, this stands for Good Agronomic Practices. These are the recommended steps which should be followed in order to have improved agricultural produce. These are divided into GAP while in the nursery bed and Gap in the main garden. The practices in the nursery bed include the following;
Nursery bed preparation: where the seeds are sown to enable their germination before transplanting them to the main garden. This should be smooth enough to enable a higher germination percentage. Large/rough soil particles will hinder germination. The bed should be located a water source to ease the process of watering. Soil sterilization should be done in the nursery bed to kill soil borne pests and other disease causing agents which can be harmful to the seeds or seedlings.
Sowing of the seed should be done. Lines should be made in the bed and sowing in line facilitates easy transplanting, avoids overcrowding that could lead to competition for water and nutrients in addition to proper seed rate per bed.
After sowing, watering should be done immediately to provide the seed with enough moisture. Regular watering and monitoring of the bed should be done.
The bed should be covered with grass to reduce on loss of soil moisture through evaporation.
After seed germination, a shade should be constructed running East to West to avoid direct sunlight on to the seedlings which can lead to their drying.
As the seedlings grow hardening off should be done gradually so that the seedlings get acclimatized to the harsh environment.
Transplanting to the main garden should be done after two weeks.

In the main garden the following practices should be conducted
Early field preparation which encompasses primary and secondary planting. During this time all the tree stumps should be removed as these could harbor pests and other disease causing agents that can cause harm to the crops leading to great losses.
Planting in line at a spacing of 10x15cm or 20x20cm depending on the variety or soil fertility.
Weeding should always be done to prevent competition between nakati and weeds for sunlight, water, space and nutrients. This also reduces on chances of pest and disease infestation as some weeds may hour them.
A fertilizer (leaf booster) can be added to enable high yields.
Spray with a recommended pesticide incase leaf eaters show up.
First harvesting can be done at two months. This can continue for five more times.
Achievements
The training was successful
All farmers were ready to establish kitchen gardens
Challenge
The farmers cannot do nakati production on a large scale
Way forward
More training during the process should be conducted especially on pest and disease control.