Soil nutrient depletion is one of the top most agricultural production constraints in Uganda, with over 80% of rice farmers perceiving this constraint to be one of the factors constraining crop yields. Yet, fertilizers are barely used, and yield responses to conventional NPK-fertilizers are poor. Micronutrients have been reported to enhance uptake efficiency of NPK, improving rice grain yields, profit margins, grain nutritional quality and disease tolerance. For instance, Sulphur, zinc, copper, magnesium, calcium, boron, iron and manganese applied in combination rather than individual micronutrients have been reported to increase yields of rice, maize, wheat, beans and potato in Ethiopia, Rwanda, Burundi and Mozambique by 20-70% above the yields realized with NPK alone. Similarly, improved yields of maize in Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Nigeria and Tanzania have been reported when micronutrients were applied in combination with NPK. In Uganda however, little is known about micronutrient fertilization in rice.

With regard to this, crop scientists from Africa Innovations Institute are currently conducting research on the rice crop with the emphasis of unraveling the contributions of micronutrients in addition to macronutrient fertilizer application in Uganda. The efforts to achieve this are covered under the ENRICH (Enhancing rice markets in Uganda through smart micronutrient fertilization) project that aims to address rice nutrient problems through testing and recommending best micro and macronutrient fertilizer combinations and application methods that give best yield results for farmers.

To do this, the scientists under the project have set up field experiments in Eastern Uganda on the two rice irrigation schemes of Doho in Butaleja District and Kibimba in Bugiri district. This has been successfully done with the involvement of Farmer Research Groups (FRGs) that are helping in trial monitoring and evaluation. These FRGs have been trained for their efficient involvement in evaluating the experiments, and selecting the best fertilizer combinations and management practices that will give the best rice yields and can be integrated into their current management practices.

The different fertilizers being evaluated are nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P), Potassium (K), Zinc (Zn), Manganese (Mn), Boron (B), sulphur (S) and a commercial micronutrient fertilizer Elfert-F.  “These have been applied at rates based on the results of soil analysis from the fields where the trials are being conducted.” Says AfrII Agronomist, Mr. Thomas Awio, also the lead technical supervisor of the experiments.

This research we are conducting at the two rice irrigation schemes is an exciting experience with potential to improve the productivity of the rice crop in Uganda. Similar research has been conducted in neighboring Tanzania and other countries and the results were overwhelming. If this same research emerges a success, then Uganda is headed for greater things with the rice crop. We have also actively engaged farmers to own this research. Farmers need to understand clearly what the experiment is all about, why they (farmers) should participate which is why we have trained them to clearly understand the importance of the experiments and also trained them on what to do. This team will then be briefing the rest of the farmers on the progress of the trials, engage in demonstrating the best fertilizer combinations in their fields to motivate fellow farmers to adopt and embrace this new technology” remarks Professor Otim-Nape, Chairman AfrII.

There is a lot to be done, and this research is the beginning of a transformation to the rice grain in Uganda in as far as ensuring food security” adds Professor Otim-Nape.

Professor Otim-Nape, is a veteran plant virologist / pathologist / scientist famously referred to as ‘Dr. Cassava’ for his enormous efforts in saving the crop from the dreaded cassava mosaic epidemic. He is now looking at improving the rice grain. He relayed optimism that once the research emerges successful, this will be the biggest breakthrough for rice farmers in Uganda for they will reap big from rice production. He also believes that this improved yield will also widen markets for the rice grain thus impacting on lives of farmers who will then look beyond local sales.

The ENRICH project funded by the Government of the Netherlands is a partnership between Africa Innovations Institute (AfrII)-also the lead implementer, Virtual Fertiliser Research Centre of the International Fertilizer Development Centre(VFRC-IFDC)-Washington DC, Africa Rice Centre (Africa Rice)-Tanzania, Wageningen University (WUR)-Netherlands, International Soil Reference and Information Centre (ISRIC)-World Soil Information, Netherlands, FICA Seeds Limited-Uganda, and Wind Wood Millers Limited-Uganda.  The project will run for 3 years (January 2016 to January 2019).