Uganda: Farmers benefit from practices that regenerate soil and improve fertility

| December 8, 2023

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In Buwadeyelo village near Mbale city in eastern Uganda, Wasembe Wadasiru addresses the challenge of infertile soil caused by soil erosion and poor farming practices. Using cow manure and planting diverse species like mangoes and eucalyptus, he actively improves soil fertility and his crop production. Mr. Wadasiru's innovative practices, including zero tillage, cover crops, and integrating livestock, contribute to soil conservation. These efforts shield his crops from the impacts of climate change, particularly drought. Mr. Wadasiru and other farmers reap the rewards of sustainable farming, achieving improved yields, food security, and additional income.

It’s around one o’clock in the afternoon and the sun is intermittently shining through moving clouds. A cool breeze is blowing and runoff rainwater is flowing gently through the valleys. 

It has just stopped raining heavily, and the land is blossoming with a fresh aroma in Buwadeyelo village, 14 kilometres from Mbale city in eastern Uganda. 

Wasembe Wadasiru is just arriving in his garden. The 60-year-old farmer is getting ready to start applying cow manure to improve the fertility of his soil and increase crop production. 

Mr. Wadasiru explains: “Cow-dung manure is greatly helping me to improve my field. I get it easily from my animals. It is cheap and sustainable, unlike chemical fertilizers which are too expensive and toxic to the environment.”

One of the biggest problems facing Mr. Wadasiru and many other farmers in this area is infertile soil. The main reasons are soil erosion and poor farming practices that allow topsoil to be carried away by runoff water and floods. Farming practices such as unnecessarily cutting trees and burning crop residues and bushes have also contributed immensely to soil infertility and low crop productivity. 

To address this challenge, Mr. Wadasiru is applying cow manure and planting mangoes, eucalyptus, and indigenous tree species to protect the soil in his garden.

Farmers looking to rebuild the soil and protect soil fertility can also use cover crops and zero tillage when preparing land. Integrating crops and livestock on the same land also conserves and improves the soil.

Mr. Wadasiru is making a breakthrough with these new practices, and his soils are improving every year. His crops, which include beans, cabbage, and coffee, are not heavily affected by drought because the cow manure and shade trees conserve moisture in the soil. 

Mr. Wadasiru is getting good yields because of these practices. He is also benefiting from good income and food security, growing cash crops such as onions, Irish potatoes, cabbages, bananas, and coffee, while planting cassava and yams for the family. Mr. Wadasiru earned over 6,000,000 Ugandan shillings (US $1,570) last year by selling 700 kilograms of coffee. 

Wakholi Fabien is a retired teacher in the same district who is using cow manure from his dairy animals to improve the soil in his farm. He attended a training, which included Farm Radio International and other organizations, where he learned about these practices.  Mr. Fabien says, “Following the training, I started using cow-dung as manure on my farm. This has improved the yield of my crops.” 

Nagudi Aisat is another farmer in Mbale district who is trying to improve her soil fertility. She grows bananas, Irish potatoes, yams, berries, and other crops, but poor soil fertility because of soil erosion has been her major challenge. After trying several other practices unsuccessfully, she eventually tried terracing, planting cover crops, and mulching to reduce the loss of water and nutrients from her soil.

She is happy that these practices have paid off. She says, “My family no longer buys food because our farm is now providing food and income.”

Moses Aisu Okurut is the chief executive officer of the African Organic Network in Uganda. He says that soil erosion and infertility should be dealt with by using practices such as terracing, contour ridges and bunds, and trenches.

Mr. Okurut says: “The trenches help run-off water to spread before sinking into the soil. Farmers should also plant cover [shade] trees to reduce evaporation because trees help in water retention and in controlling soil erosion.”

The benefits of these new practices are clear in Mr. Wadasiru’s life. He explains: “I am able to pay school fees for my children. I have also managed to reduce [the] costs of buying food for my family since my yield has improved. I have bought a four-acre piece of land and my plans are to buy a solar-powered irrigation system to help in dealing with the problem of drought.”

This resource is funded by the IKEA Foundation under the project “Sustainable Dialogue and Knowledge Sharing Communication Platforms”