Weeding out the best solution
The Teso region of north and eastern Uganda, an area that was once very productive, now struggles to improve crop yields despite the introduction of improved varieties. The culture of the Iteso people is closely linked to a tradition of animal rearing, predominantly cattle, sheep and goats and also to the use of draught animal power, but large numbers of animals were lost as a result of persistent raiding by the Karamajong warriors and rebels during the insurgency of the late 1980s and early 90s. Shortage in draught animal power (and human power from the AIDS epidemic) has resulted in less land being cultivated and the transformation of the area from a cash-crop to a subsistence economy. Furthermore, continuous cropping of smaller parcels of land closer to their homes has led to declining soil fertility and increasing pressure of weeds. And, as soil fertility has decreased, annual grass weeds and perennial weeds that are difficult to control have begun to build up and persist in some areas.
More recently oxen have been re-introduced in some areas to increase cultivated areas. But these increases have placed an additional labour burden on women and children, who are generally responsible for weeding by hand as few farmers can afford additional labour for weeding due to increased hire rates during peak periods. Weed pressure is seen by farmers as a major constraint to increasing production so in response to a needs assessment exercise, a project* based at the Serere Agricultural and Animal Research Institute (SAARI), identified a number of animal-drawn weeders which could be tested and evaluated by farmers. Two have performed well on-farm, have been well liked by farmers and have significantly reduced the labour costs required for weeding sorghum and groundnuts, both important crops for subsistence and cash income in the Teso Farming System.
Evaluating the equipment
Farmers in seven different locations tested the ox-drawn weeders on sorghum and groundnuts during first and second rains. Experiences from the men and women involved in the trials were then shared with the researchers. Further participatory appraisal methods in nine locations allowed farmers to rank each of the weeders against a range of criteria e.g. removal of weeds, damage to crops, ease of transport and availability of spare parts. Interestingly, the weeder developed at the Agricultural Engineering and Appropriate Technology Research Institute (AEATRI) caused the most damage to crops, was the slowest to use and was least liked. In contrast, the local plough proved to be a cheap and effective implement. The locally developed SAARI weeder, bolted to the existing plough frame, also scored well as it was cheap to use and was effective at removing perennial grass weeds. And, although the SG2000 proved a fast and effective implement, spare parts were difficult to obtain.
Technology takes off
* 'Improving production in the Teso Farming System through the development of sustainable draught animal technologies' - a co-funded project by DFID's Livestock Production and Crop Protection research programmes, also involved researchers from University of Greenwich, UK; Serere Agricultural & Animal Research Institute, Uganda; Long Ashton Research Station, UK; and Silsoe Research Institute, UK.