Ugandan farmers continue to embrace organic farming as the only solution to maintaining and ensuring that the soil quality remains favorable for agriculture.
This comes amidst calls for regulating the use and safety of chemical pesticides and dangerous fertilizers to the environment.
Kulika Uganda, an organization pushing for organic farming by organizing residential training for farmers, says they can reap bigger profits and at the same ensure safety of Uganda’s population.
For instance, Andrew Walugembe has been growing vegetables and other crops on his five acres of land in Namayumba Sub County in Wakiso district over the last five years. But before this, Walugembe’s focus had mainly been on rearing goats and free range chicken. But this yielded little profit for him.
Now he is beginning to feel the difference after attending a three months residential training for Wakiso farmers at Kulika Uganda. Walugembe explains that the soil quality had deteriorated as a result of pouring chemicals into the ground.
Together with other farmers in his group, they were able to maintain soil fertility by using available resources at their disposal. He says they have taken matters into their own hands and returned to chemical-free organic practices instead of the fertilizers they used before.
Most of the farmers, who have graduated from the Kulika farmers training college, are also given seeds, to develop seed banks which has eased access to quality planting seeds.
Kulika Uganda Executive Director Christine Ssempebwa says the Climate Smart Agriculture model, respects the environment and allows the soils to remain sustainable for generations.
Research has proved that some chemical fertilizers used in conventional farming are petroleum based, and when applied, will kill micro-organisms which are vital for maintaining soil fertility.
This approach is intended to promote biological pesticides which farmers can make so as to increase on their yields.
Farmers are now being encouraged to use fertilizers of natural origin which are plant or animal based including cow dung, manure or compost, coffee husks in addition to natural based fertilizers.
Unfortunately, even with these easy means of improving the fertility of their soils, farmers are not raising high volumes of food, yet organic farming is the fastest growing food industry in the world with a ready market for their produce.
This comes at a time when people are becoming conscious of what they eat and about the environment, the reason it’s growth is upward.
Conserve the environment through Sustainable Organic Agriculture Practices
Sustainable Organic Agriculture (SOA) is an economically viable and environmentally friendly system that is based on the principles and practices of diversity, living soil and recycling of available resources.Sustainable Organic agriculture means different things to different people but to Kulika Uganda, it is what every farmer requires to achieve sustainable livelihoods. Kulika Uganda, a local NGO believes that land use management is directly linked to climate change because when soil and vegetation is lost, more carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere. This is why the organisation works with over 10,000 farmers to promote and undertake practices that contribute to mitigation of climate change effects through techniques that have served for countless years. Conservation of soil and water amidst the adversities of weather is one of the core areas of the SOA concept and are inherent mechanisms for reducing climate related and other livelihoods risk factors.
Farmers that practice soil and water conservation are able to improve their yields as well as preserve natural resources. One of the principles that Kulika believes in is that if you feed the soil, then the soil will feed you and cooperation with nature is paramount.
There are several techniques that farmers undertake to conserve soil and water and to minimise the resultant effects. These techniquesare common and are known by many people but their practice is limited due to negative attitudes towards them.The idea is to go back to the basics of nature and try not to compete with it instead harness it to one’s advantage. The key practices that Kulika trained farmers use are:
• Practices that minimise the effects of droughts by harvesting rain water in the fields for crop as well as domestic use.
• Digging trenches/contours: This is known to be labour intensive and farmers dig trenches / contours to cut off drains, check dams in their gardens and soil bunds to reduce the speed and trap running water, and thus conserve the soil that would be lost. In so doing, they trap the top soil from the neighbour’s farms to their advantage. A well contoured garden gives twice as much yield compared to the one without contours. The ditches are capable of trapping the water which is utilised by plants for more than 3 days. According to farmers’ testimonies, a farmer in Pallisa district narrates; ‘we went on to live on our barren 2 acres of land inheritance, we started water catchments, popularly known as fanyajuus, fanyachini, L-bridges and to divert a road – rainfall runoff to soak into them every time it rained. A barren inheritance is not an insult with land. It is common for many who inherit land that is barren to abandon it and sell it off! This disease has seriously caught many parts of our country’
• Mulching: Managing soil moisture through playing around with crop cover, mulching of crops. Farmers Integrate legumes in crop rotation cycles either intercropped or as cover crops and carry out mulching using dry matter (e.g. maize straws) and live mulch (e.g. mucuna, lablab e.t.c) to minimize weed growth, retain moisture for the plants and ultimately contribute to increase in crop yield
• Promotion of drought tolerant crops such as yams, cassava, sweet potato etc.
• Use of compost. The soil conservation measures include composting particularly using animal waste which improves water retention in the soil as well as promoting better plant growth and improved yields. Farmers are taught to Integrate livestock in the farming system in order to provide manure. Farmers use different compost manures e.g. boma compost, compost heap, liquid manures and slurry to boost plant growth rather than using inorganic fertilizers.
The role played by soil and water conservation practices in negative climate change effects are in seasonal precipitation and temperature patterns while doing this, the farmers increase agricultural productivity and therefore become food secure. There relationship between soil, water conservation and agricultural productivity is a foregone debate and farmers must go back to the basics feed the soil and cooperate with the natural environment instead of competing with it.
By Christine Karungi (The author is the Communication officer-Kulika Uganda)