Like many farmers in northern Uganda, James Ojede finds chemical fertilizers very expensive. But his soil was no longer fertile or productive. He had completely lost hope, and concluded that his land would never regain its fertility.
Mr. Ojede farms in Awaka village, in the Oyam district of northern Uganda. He grew upland rice, maize, and sunflower, but struggled for a number of years with poor harvests and low income, and could not afford to buy chemical fertilizer.
But now his fortunes have changed, and Mr. Ojede is earning a good income after boosting the fertility of his soil with legumes.
In 2015, Mr. Ojede participated in a project called N2Africa, which was implemented by World Vision. During the project, Mr. Ojede was given a new variety of soya bean called Maksoy 5N. He was also trained on how to space soya beans during planting. He says the project encouraged him to grow sorghum and use legumes—like soya beans—to fix nitrogen in the soil.
He adds, “This assisted me to improve the fertility of my garden. Within a period of one year, the soil fertility in my garden started improving.”
Last year, Mr. Ojede had a bumper harvest and is now a happy man. He says, “In 2016, after planting soya beans on my one hectare [of] land, I harvested up to three tonnes, an improvement of more than one tonne [from 2015].”
Mr. Ojede has learned that legumes acquire nitrogen from the atmosphere and fix it in the soil through bacteria in the root nodules, and that this extra nitrogen helps improve soil fertility. The soil in his area lacks nitrogen largely because farmers have not been rotating crops or replenishing their soil with nutrients.
According to Mary Adongo, a resident of Apac Town Council, planting legumes has improved nutrition in her family. She says, “Because our land is now fertile, we have enough food for our children and can also sell [the surplus].” This extra income means they can buy meat and fish to add to their diet.
Aron Othieno is a soil scientist in northern Uganda. He says that thousands of farmers are barely producing enough to eat, and have nothing extra to sell, mainly because of soil infertility. He adds, “Besides soil infertility, our farmers grow poor crop varieties which give very low yields; and the other challenge is that they also have little access to the markets.”
Mr. Ojede is one of many farmers who have benefited from planting legumes. He says, “Growing soya beans has improved my income remarkably. In the last season, I got 920,000 shillings [$253 US]. But previously I earned little money.”