Horticulture Lab Tackles Dry Season in Uganda with Simple Furrow Tactic
Dry season vegetable production is a high priority in Uganda's largely rain-fed (over 97 percent) agricultural systems. Off-season vegetable supplies are currently inadequate to meet human nutritional needs. As rainfall patterns become increasingly unpredictable and rapid population expansion increases pressure on food systems, demand for vegetables will further outstrip supplies.
To meet this pressure, the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Horticulture is working on a project with smallholder farmers to improve their irrigation for year-round cultivation. The solution they landed on was raised furrow beds. This innovation makes it possible to grow vegetables in seasonally waterlogged valleys throughout the year by using a system combining features that assist in both irrigation and drainage.
A system of furrows raised on top of wide beds for poorly drained valleys allows both irrigation and drainage. This is a system that builds raised beds running cross slope, separated by drainage canals. It uses two levels of raised bed to create more drainage and aeration in the root system. This has been most successful with crops including onions and leafy greens. Two larger canals are constructed on both sides of the plot to be irrigated, running downslope. If the field is wide, a series of these canals can be made.
These canals can be used to bring irrigation water into the field during the dry season; they are also used to drain excess water during rainy season or irrigation. Smaller canals are dug across the slope, connecting to both the canals. Land should be leveled as well as possible between the two canals across the slope to allow water to fill and drain freely. Once the canals are dug, the land between them should be plowed and raised up to as high a level from the canal bottom as possible. This raised bed is then leveled, and furrows are made running perpendicular to the upslope and downslope canals. These furrows are closed and do not enter the downslope canal. A small canal runs parallel to the upslope canal to fill the individual furrows. Water is blocked from the upslope canal to allow water into the raised bed.
This Horticulture Innovation Lab team, led by Kate Scow of the University of California, Davis, uses a participatory research and development approach to test irrigation innovations at sites in Eastern Uganda and create a framework for local public- and private-sector organizations to develop small-scale irrigation systems. These activities build on the team’s previous participatory work in Uganda convening stakeholders to develop innovations in small-scale, dry-season vegetable production for women farmers.
The team works closely with smallholder women farmers, who are often excluded from irrigation and marketing developments. The project includes
- Working at five locations to test dry-season vegetable production systems with farmers, research partners, district staff, NGO partners, and university students;
- Assessing agronomic, economic, market, nutrition, and gender impacts of the innovations; and
- Developing scale-out options for the most promising technologies.
Development of a systematic, co-innovation approach for assessing and supporting new ideas in dry-season vegetable production will strengthen small-scale farmer enterprises aimed at local markets and family consumption.