NDSU Extension agronomist provides training to farmers in Uganda

Training Ugandan farmers to use pesticides safely was a topic of concern for Ransom during his trip. NDSU Photo

NDSU Extension

North Dakota State University Extension Service agronomist Joel Ransom provided training on corn production to local farmers in northern Uganda earlier in the fall.

Ransom’s trip was organized by Catholic Relief Services’ Farmer-to-Farmer (FTF) program that is funded through a grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development. The training provided has the potential to increase yield and food security in a region of Uganda where corn is the major food crop.

Ransom worked with members of the Little Sisters of Mary Immaculate congregation, whose farms support students in their system as well as disabled and retired members. Most of his time was spent in northern Uganda, near one of the congregation’s farm and secondary schools, where he provided lectures and practical field experiences.

“Though Uganda is blessed with fertile soils and a nearly perfect climate for corn production, corn yields are low,” says Ransom. “With a bit more intensification and use of available technologies, I estimate that yields could increase by fourfold in some of the farms I visited.

“It was hard to find Extension recommendations on how to grow corn in Uganda, so we planted plots with different hybrids and fertilizer inputs so the participants could learn firsthand what worked for their area,” Ransom explains. “This experience really taught me the importance of having an effective Extension system and access to production information backed by reliable research.”

Ransom adds, “The Sisters were some of the most attentive students I have ever taught, which made this assignment especially rewarding.”

Perennial grassy weeds also are a serious constraint for small farmers in Uganda because weeding is done with hand hoes.

Recently, the fall armyworm was introduced into Africa from the Americas and has grown into a serious pest. Because this pest has no natural enemies in Africa, no cold winter to reduce their numbers and no genetic resistance in their corn hybrids, it is taking a serious toll on the production of corn.

Uganda has not yet passed laws allowing for the use of transgenic corn hybrids, so the farmers must rely on insecticides as their only means of control. Because applications of pesticides on small Ugandan farms are typically done with backpack sprayers worn by workers wearing limited protective clothing, trainings on the safe handling of pesticides are a major concern.

This is Ransom’s fifth volunteer assignment with FTF. It is one of nearly 500 assignments that focus on improving approaches to local agriculture practices and expanding production of high-quality food crops and nutrition in Ethiopia, Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda. The FTF program has been in operation for nearly 30 years.