This week’s Farmer story from Ethiopia discusses ways that researchers are helping farmers rebuild their soil fertility. Our Script of the week features a quite different approach to rebuilding soil fertility.
The hilly regions around Mt. Elgon in eastern Uganda are some of the most fertile in East Africa. As a result, farmers from surrounding areas have gravitated there over the years. The population has been steadily growing, which means that the land available for individual farmers has been getting smaller and smaller. Because of the increasing population, people have burned bushes and cleared forests to make room for ever-increasing human activities.
Because of this increased pressure on the land, soil erosion was widespread in many areas. People in the plains and people in the hills were both suffering from crop failure. But the causes were slightly different. Crop failure in the plains was caused by intense droughts because of the lack of vegetation cover. In the hills, crops failed because water running downhill had washed away the topsoil.
In 2011, an international NGO called the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) started a campaign with several goals: to restore the forest landscape that had been completely destroyed by years of bush burning and tree cutting, to strengthen local capacity to implement ecosystem-based adaptations to climate change, and to reduce the vulnerability of communities in the Mt. Elgon ecosystem.
Through a project called Ecosystem Based Adaptation to Climate Change, IUCN encouraged farmers to dig trenches across the slopes of their hilly fields, create contour bunds in their fields, and plant elephant grass along the boundary lines of their farms. They encouraged those who lived along riverbanks to leave a 15-metre wide buffer zone between the river and the farm, and to adopt practices like mulching, irrigation, and planting trees.
The outcome has been that slowly but surely, over the last several years, the soils have regained their fertility and many farmers are quite pleased that they heeded IUCN’s advice.
If you choose to use this script as inspiration for creating your own program, you could talk to local farmers and other experts, and ask the following questions:
What do farmers in your area do to ensure that running water does not wash away topsoil on their farms?
What are the reasons for not adopting practices that reduce soil erosion?
For example, in Kapchorwa, in eastern Uganda, some farmers along riverbanks believe that creating a buffer zone between the river and the farm is a waste of good farmland, while others fear that the buffer zone could end up being taken away by the government and added to the nearby national park.
Have some farmers found solutions to these and other challenges? If so, invite these farmers—and extension agents and other experts—to tell their stories on air.
You could also host a call-in program where farmers talk about these issues. You could invite an expert to talk and respond to farmers’ questions and comments.