Though rising economically, creatively and financially, Africa still struggles with a host of challenges that – without consistent innovation and the deep resilience ingrained in its people – may set the continent back in terms of development. One of these challenges lies in the agricultural sector, where farmers, small- and large-scale, often struggle to earn a living due to the unavailability of modern farming processes, tools and ideas. But this is changing.
To reach its full potential and truly rise, the continent must find African solutions to African problems. In Uganda’s agricultural sector, this is taking the form of the “golden spice of life”, turmeric. Commonly known as ekinzaali in Uganda, turmeric is one of the most essential spices in the culinary world, used to colour sauces and flavour dishes such as curry. It’s also renowned for its numerous medicinal uses: recent studies have shown that curcumin (the main active ingredient in the root crop) has powerful anti-inflammatory properties, thus many believe it can be used to effectively treat conditions such as diabetes, high cholesterol, arthritis and low immunity, and also sprains and strains, among others. With such known uses and benefits, it’s little wonder that there is huge demand for turmeric throughout the world, yet the Ugandan farming community is only tentatively testing this potential miracle crop, even though it is perfectly suited to the country’s climate.
According to Dr Twaha Kakooza, owner of Shatwa Mixed Farm in Bubejjwe village, though turmeric is in high demand in both international and local markets, few farmers are aware of its existence as a crop so far, and those who know of it are put off by its nine-month growth period. Another problem is the lack of credit facilities for smallholder farmers, a situation that makes it tough for them to buy the fertilisers and agro-chemicals necessary for sustainable farming. Perhaps more of Uganda’s farmers would be willing to test the value of turmeric if they were made aware of yet another of its advantages: when planted as a “companion crop” to peppers, tomatoes and aubergines, turmeric herbs act as a black ant repellent, lessening pest attacks on the aforementioned crops and, in so doing, reducing the need for harmful and expensive pesticides.
So, though full-scale farming of turmeric may be too risky for most of the central African country’s farmers at this early stage, a great compromise may be to grow this increasingly essential herb as an “add on” to other tried-and-tested crops. This way, Ugandans can enjoy the advantages of safe and natural pest control, and, perhaps, enhanced income when the herb is ready for the market.