Sawa Pius | September 6, 2010
The slopes of Samuel Bwayo’s farm are sprinkled with lines of stones. He places piles of stones and heaps of grass along the contour lines. Contour lines are imaginary lines which connect the parts of a sloping field which are at the same height. The lines help him trap the soil and prevent it from being washed downhill. With contour lines, Mr. Bwayo now harvests a reasonable yield of maize, beans, ground nuts, cassava and millet.
Mr. Bwayo lives in Kitsi village, Manafwa District, in eastern Uganda. The village is located on the slopes of Mount Elgon. He is a member of Kitsi Farmers NGO, known as KIFANGO. KIFANGO has 83 farmer members, including 53 women. Living on the slopes of Mount Elgon, they have developed new ways of growing crops.
The surrounding hills are bare and without trees. For many years, residents cut them for charcoal, firewood and construction. Now the farmers face poor soils and a shortage of rains. As a consequence, yields have dropped.
Felix Kusolo is a community development officer. “Before 1980, the hills were healthy; there was no soil erosion, because there were enough trees to hold the soil,” he says. “The population in this area has more than doubled, so people have to find more land for cultivation, and the only place is to clear the forests.”
Mr. Bwayo’s neighbour is facing serious soil erosion. It is devastating his crop production. In some parts of the farm, all the soil has been washed downhill, leaving wide gullies. Mr. Bwayo is an experienced farmer. He says his neighbour is experiencing gully erosion. “It started as rill erosion and now it has become gully erosion. Rill erosion is on a small area, but [a] gully is wide.”
Mr. Bwayo says his neighbour should make contour lines on his farm to avoid the problem. He makes his own contours from piles of stones and grass placed across the slope on the farm. He would advise his neighbour to make small plots, separated by these contours.Mr. Bwayo says his neighbour, and others who have not adopted contour farming, have to learn the hard way. “If you tell them to make contours, they don’t listen. But when they get a loss in crop yields, due to soil erosion, they will remember to make contours next time.”
John Sam Kundu is adopting both contour lines and tree planting on his farm. He says that when he started farming this land, there were no trees at all. He says, “Now I have to maintain the soil fertility by making contours, and planting trees.”
Mr. Kundu has planted indigenous trees on his farm. He only knows their name in his local language of Lugisu. He says the indigenous trees do better than exotic types.
“When you cut the local trees, they start producing branches right from the ground. They have bigger leaves. And as they grow, they quickly start shedding the leaves which decompose, maintaining the soil fertility.”
Peter Masika is the area forest officer. He says efforts to distribute local tree seedlings to the farmers are continuing.
Mr. Masika says the farmers are re-introducing coffee. This used to be a favorite crop on the slopes of Mount Elgon. He says coffee growing will work together with the native tree species to help improve the soils and bring back the rains.
For more information and resources on compost and soil fertility, please refer to the Soil Health Issue Pack, July 2010: http://farmradio.org/english/radio-scripts/91-9script_en.asp.