How Masaka farmers are reclaiming their plantations with Mucuna.
The Masaka sub-region was prized as the country’s food basket. But that was in the past since in recent years, most plantations crumbled due to the effects of the changing climate.
Researchers have recently discovered a weed, the jack bean, that farmers can use to take their plantations through harsh climatic conditions like prolonged drought.
The jack bean has already been introduced to farmers in the districts of Masaka, Kalungu, Rakai, Kyotera, Bukomansimbi and Kalangala and the results so far show that besides the plantations surviving the harsh climatic conditions, it also improves both crop and livestock yields.
Disan Muwanga Matovu, an agricultural researcher and director of Buddu Banana Restoration, the bean once planted mulches the plantations in addition to being a source of animal feeds, beverage flavour, food supplement among other advantages.
Scientifically, the bean is known as Canavalia Ensiformi but among the farmers in Masaka, it is called Mucuna.
Matovu explained that it prevents growth of weeds in the plantation and reduces the need for spraying using chemicals which are somewhat toxic and expensive.
In Masaka, one 5-litter jerrycan of organic banana herbicides goes for over shs50,000 while one kilogram of mucuna costs shs35,000.
Juliet Njagala, a large-scale organic farmer at Busense village, Kabonera Sub County, Masaka district planted mucuna in her 5-acre-banana plantation.
She resorted to mucuna after incurring huge loses after her plantation dried up due to prolonged dry spell in 2016.
With mucuna, Njagala said, mulching became easier and more reliable compared to other forms of mulches such as dry grass and compost manure which is expensive especially for the large-scale farmers.
“We picked the idea in a training held on combating climate change effect at Masaka district headquarters last year (2017). It has helped us (farmers) to boost plant immunity and with the prevailing rainfall, I am getting better results,” Njagala said.
When planted, he said, it covers the ground, hence reducing on the impact of the sun on the plant and soils.
In addition, it also adds nitrogen to the soil, making them more fertile. While other beans take between 50 and 57 days to mature, Matovu said, mucuna takes between 3 to 4 months to grow up.
Scientists recommend that mucuna is planted 2-3 cm deep, between30-45 cm apart and the rows about 60-90 cm apart. With 2kgs of mucuna seeds, a farmer can cover an acre of his plantation.
“When planted at the onset of the rain season it will be covering the whole plantation by the time the dry season sets in,” Matovu said.
Its leaves form a canopy which prevents the sun from hitting the ground directly hence the soil underneath remains smooth throughout.
Jonathan Lugaya, another farmer at Busense village believes a combination of the mucuna and irrigation would bring remarkable results.
To him, the logic behind mucuna is, you buy the seeds once and when the beans mature you can plant them elsewhere in the plantation.
“What I know mucuna improves crop quality and improves yields so I am planning to produce and supply bananas in and out of season,” Lugaya said.
Lugaya also looks at mucuna was an alternative to the limited access to extension services such as technical and agribusiness advice.
Sam Kaddu, one of the farmers who survived the dry spell last year, said he planted mucuna early in January 2017 and prefers the bean to other mulches such as grass clippings which are scarce.
“Most of the farmers did not buy the idea of planting mucuna in the first place. Not until our crops withered and dried up in the dry spell,” Kaddu said.
Besides mulching, Kaddu processes mucuna into animal feeds. Because of its high nutrient content, Kaddu says, it leads to increased milk production in cows.
George William Mutabaazi, the LC-V Chairman for Lwengo district covered his 9-acre coffee plantation with the beans which has saved him the burden of spraying weeds regularly.
A sachet containing 15 jack bean seeds cost him shs1,000 and three seeds can be planted in between four banana plants in a space of 8x12ft.
The bean was first used in Kalangala’s oil palm plantations. This was an eye opener to researchers that it was tried out in other plantations.
The quality of its organic yields command an undisputed demand locally and internationally.