Amidst COVID-19 pandemic, farmers urged to utilize current rains

Mr Edwin Atukuna Beekunda in a well managed tea estate.

Zombo Farmers across the country have been urged not to relax because of coronavirus pandemic.

Early this month, Office of the Prime Minister – through Mr Martin Owor who’s a commissioner disaster preparedness and management released a public statement, saying “rains have begun, it will be heavy and above normal”.

This rain, according to a tea expert and an agriculturist, Mr Edwin Atukunda Beekunda should be properly utilized by all farmers, countrywide.

“This is the right season for preparing gardens. Our farmers should not wait for coronavirus to end,” Mr Atukunda, told TND News in a phone interview on Sunday.

Mr Atukunda – who’s the director of The Edwin Foundation Tea Initiative – widely known as EFOTI Limited, and currently based in northern Uganda, added that the “region can’t be neglected”.

Through EFOTI Limited’s intervention, tea farming in northern Uganda – especially West Nile sub-region has got a milestone, with more than 500 committed tea farmers.

These farmers have since come together under cooperatives society and SAACO – with EFOTI Limited offering guidance and capacity building, among others.  

The EFOTI Limited director has also urged the President to guide farmers across the country amidst coronavirus threats. Recently, the President banned all social activities and transport across the country, but did not talked about banning farming activities.

However, with COVID-19 cases now being reported in upcountry towns, restriction on farmers going to their gardens may be inevitable.

“I would like the President to address the nation/farmers on how to handle agriculture. Farmers should be mobilised, sensitized on radios, televisions and social media,” Mr Atukunda added.

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Emphasizing on tea, he added that in most parts of the country, tea seedlings have over grown and not fit for planting.

Northern Uganda Minister Grace Freedom [L], Atekunda Edwin [2nd from L] His Highness Philips Olaker Rauni III, the Alur King and other leaders excitedly hold green tea last year. File photo.

“Most seedlings are considered as stumps, that’s why we have to train people how to plant overgrown tea [stumps],” he advises.

Planting seedling stumps

The tea expert further says from the late 1960s, most of the planting in Kenya has been carried out with sleeved clonal plants. During this time, he says seedlings have only been raised for experiments or for infilling in the fields.

Another advice he gave out is that planting should be avoided in excessively wet weather to prevent soil from puddling around new plants; this ideal planting time is when the soil is dump, rather than wet, and they weather should be cloudy.

“Once the rains have started, planting should normally commence as soon as the soil is found to be damp to a depth of at least one metre,” Atukunda says.

According to him, “We have to train people how to handle overgrown tea. The main issue is we [the foundation] have to come in and we can’t do the same mistakes again.”

“We have a challenge of coronavirus where people will just sit at home and wait for heaven; we have to train people on how to manage overgrown tea [not normal seedlings] because they have never handled it, especially tea farmers from northern Uganda,” he added, in an interview.

He urged government not to keep supplying overgrown seedlings to farmers, because they don’t know how to manage it.

Partnership and indebtedness  

Bringing tea into bearing is done by experienced person, people should utilize the only one agricultural company that specializes in tea research for better results. That’s why we went ahead to sign MOUs with NARO Rwebitaba Tea Institute and Kericho in Kenya to improve tea research in Uganda.

We appreciate the government efforts’ in supplying planting materials given to farmers but, that’s not enough. EFOTI Limited would love to partner with Operation Wealth Creation (OWC) for better results especially in tea development in Northern Uganda.

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