Rice is an important food staple in Uganda and a major source of income for many farmers. However, rice production is low at 1.5-2.5 t/ha and yields depend on poor soil fertility and socio-economic conditions. The Government has prioritized rice as a strategic commodity for development and to meet local food security demands by increasing its production. Despite the growth in production, the country still has a significant deficit in its domestic rice crop. Consequently, Uganda imports rice to fill the gap.
Agricultural research and development efforts are ongoing to increase rice production in the country. These include research and development activities that focus on climate smart agriculture, improving agronomic practices, disease management, and improving grain quality. The aim of these research activities is to increase the economic and social returns from rice cultivation.
The rice sub-sector in Uganda is dominated by smallholder farmers who produce mainly lowland varieties of rice. They grow their crops in small land holdings and use traditional tools and inputs. They also practice minimal or no irrigation and use little or no fertilizer.
In recent on-farm surveys, farmers reported that they have been noticing an increasing trend of severe nutrient depletion in their soils and yields have been declining. Most of the farmers interviewed perceived soil nutrient depletion as the main factor that contributed to the declining rice yields. They attributed the low yields to the low mineral ions especially nitrogen, phosphorus, sulphur and iron. The low mineral ions result in low pH levels, which lead to lower rice grain yields and increased disease incidence.
There is a need for better knowledge and technology to overcome these constraints and boost rice yields. Hence, there is a need for research on the role of micronutrients (SmartFert) to improve soil and plant health and enhance the uptake efficiency of NPK fertilizers for increased grain yield. The objective of this project is to promote appropriate Smart Fert practices that improve rice yield and profit margins through improved nutrient management and integrated crop-soil nutrition for sustainable intensification of rice farming in Eastern Africa, particularly in Uganda.
Micronutrients (SmartFert) have shown to be effective for increasing grain yield in other areas of East Africa, including Ethiopia, Rwanda and Burundi where they have been applied with NPK fertilizers. In these regions, rice yield increases by 20%-70% when micronutrients are combined with NPK fertilizers. In addition, they have been found to improve the uptake efficiency of NPK fertilizers by enhancing their bio-availability.
However, no information on the composition and mode of application of micronutrients for optimal rice yield is available in Uganda. The lack of information makes it difficult for research to identify the best combinations of micronutrients and NPK fertilizers and suitable application methods to increase rice yield in Uganda.
The study will help to develop micronutrient and NPK fertilizer combinations for lowland rice in Uganda that are compatible with the region’s climatic conditions. It will also enable researchers to demonstrate the effectiveness of these micronutrients and NPK fertilizers for improved rice production.