Uganda: Farmers grow cover crops and grow in previously abandoned fields to adapt to climate change

| May 29, 2023

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Sadiq Ayo’s farm in northern Uganda is plagued with drought, caused by climate change. To cope, he plants cover crops. He also plants in fields that were abandoned for 50 years because they were too wet. Part of Mr. Ayo’s farm is low-lying ground that is very wet during the rainy season. He is turning this previously-unused part of his farm into arable land. The drought caused his yields to drop significantly. But Mr. Ayo grows soybeans as a cover crop. Soybeans are drought-resilient, help retain moisture in the soil, and increase fertility. Speaking of the low-lying land, he says, “When I inherited it from my parents, I decided not to sell it … The abandoned wetland has become a source of income for my family.” Mr. Ayo is making good returns from growing soybeans in wet fields. He has bought animals, built a house, and married a wife with the money from growing soybeans.

It’s about half past six in the morning and the sun is gradually rising over Sadiq Ayo’s farm. The 29-year-old farmer has already arrived at his farm. He is clearing and tilling the land with a hoe so he can plant with the first rains. The soil, grass, and bushes in his farm are dry because climate change has brought high temperatures.

Part of his farm is low-lying ground that is very wet during the rainy season. Mr. Ayo started clearing grass and bushes earlier on this part of his farm to prepare for the 2023 growing season. He says that, like a busy bee, he works daily to transform this previously-unused part of his farm into arable land. He adds, “Since there was drought last year, I am getting ready to plant soybeans and other crops in good time.”

Mr. Ayo lives in Apedi village in the Oyam district of northern Uganda. The drought in the past few years has caused his yields to drop significantly. But he has found solutions, one of which is to grow crops in a low-lying field which is very wet during the rains.

Mr. Ayo also grows soybeans and other cover crops. The cover crops help ensure good yields during drought. He explains, “I grow soybeans because it is a drought-resilient crop. Soybean also retains moisture [in the soil] since it is a cover crop.”

Mr. Ayo says that dealing with climate change requires a number of strategies. He explains, “I will plant pumpkins, sweet potatoes, vegetables, and passion fruits. These are creeping plants that provide shade as cover crops.”

He adds: “Cover crops help the soil to retain moisture … They help to improve soil fertility because they shed leaves which become compost when decomposed. I don’t apply fertilizer because the land is already fertile. [And because] fertilizer is expensive.”

Because his low-lying fields get very wet during the rainy season, Mr. Ayo builds terraces and contours to reduce soil erosion, and to prevent water from overflowing onto other parts of his farm. He explains: “Wherever there is wet land on my field, I introduce terraces and contours to drain the excess water. I am advising the youths to learn from me on how to clear idle, swampy land and make it arable.”

According to Mr. Ayo, the low-lying land he is using was not cultivated for more than 50 years because it was too wet. He says, “When I inherited it from my parents, I decided not to sell it. I am cultivating different crops on the land. The abandoned wetland has become a source of income for my family.”

Jasper Otim lives in Anotocao village in the Oyam district of Uganda, and is the chairman of the Anotocao Farmers Cooperative Society. He says that farmers should plant drought-resistant crops. Mr. Otim adds, “Farmers should grow early-maturing crops and cover crops that help to conserve moisture during drought.”

Obote Patrick is a 40-year-old farmer who lives in Atek village in Uganda, in the same area as Mr. Ayo. He has been farming low-lying land for seven years. He says, “Swampy places are good for farming. I grow tomatoes and cabbages even during the dry seasons.”

Oyam Patrick Odyomo is the District Agricultural Officer in Oyam district. He says that farmers can fight the effects of climate change, including drought, by planting cover crops such as soybeans.

Mr. Ayo says he is making good returns from growing soybeans in wet fields. He has bought animals, built a house, and married a wife with the money from growing soybeans.

He explains that he started with an acre and harvested seven bags weighing 800 kilograms total. He sold them at 2,500 Ugandan shillings ($0.66 US) per kilogram. Now, he is planning to increase the area for soybeans to three acres, and hopes to harvest 21 bags.