James Isabirye a maize farmers from Wakiso District has been farming for the last 10 years with the hope of buying himself a vehicle, but the more acreages of maize he plants the more he spends on buying agricultural inputs such as fertilizers and maize seeds from seed companies.
He was told by scientists that planting hybrid maize varieties will give him more produce since they mature earlier.
The produce has been promising but later he discovered that he was destroying the biodiversity by destroying the environment and other living organisms in the soil which are vital in soil fertility maintenance.
“The more we apply inorganic fertilizers and other pest herbicides the more our soils lose fertility. Almost every season we are supposed to buy fertilizer to apply in our gardens if we are to get good harvest but our soils are drying up. When we contacted other scientists they advised us to apply organic fertilizers if our soils are to regain its lost fertility,” he explained.
He, however, knows that it is difficult to access organic fertilizer in huge quantity because there is no company engaging in massive production of organic fertilizers in Uganda.
Isabirye and other farmers were connected to non-government organizations such as Agency for Integrated Rural Development (AFIRD) and Participatory Ecological Land Use Management (PELUM Uganda) that are promoting agro ecology farming system, a system which uses Indigenous Knowledge in food and Livestock production.
“Through our working relationships with these two institutions, we were taught how to engage in organic farming through our interaction many farmers in the district (Wakiso) are now practicing agro ecology farming system. We were trained on how the system works and many farmers can make their own organic fertilizers instead of procuring the expensive inorganic fertilizers which are very expensive and also dangerous to the country’s Biodiversity,” Isabirye said.
Agro ecology farming
PELUM Uganda, in partnership with other organizations, is pushing for the adaptation of Agro ecology farming system in the country. The organization believes that if the system is adopted, the country will be in position to mitigate climate change which is associated with conventional farming system.
Agro ecology is farming that centres on food production that makes the best use of nature’s goods and services while preserving natural resources.
Robert Guluba, the Program officer Sustainable farming at PELUM Uganda told East African Business Week that on January 16 that conventional/ Industrial Agriculture cannot be a solution to end hunger especially among the small holder farmers in the country.
He explained that the modern system is built around two goals; maximization of production and maximization of profits and for such system to achieve its goals, farmers need big chunks of land. He said such systems are not favourable to farmers in Uganda where the country is experiencing the problem of land fragmentation.
“PELUM is not against the adaptation of the conventional farming system by the farmers but the system promotes specialized farming system such as monoculture, over depending on expensive inputs; such system is not conducive to our local farmers.
Government should put their legal framework which can support our local farmers to adopt Agro ecology farming system which is more friendly to small holder farmers. There is need to rethink agricultural systems that can sustainably feed a growing population and conserve the natural resource base,” Guloba he explained to East African Business Week during an interview.
Guloba observed that Industrial farming promotes mono-cropping in the country a practice which has eaten away the country’s forests cover replacing the country’s biodiversity with monocultures crops such as Sugar cane this has led to Deforestation leading to land degradation and water pollution as result of inorganic fertilizers application by the industries.
Other negative Impacted associated with the current farming system is the Loss of biodiversity due to its habitants being destroyed under the conventional system.
“Uganda is losing vital Insects especially the pollinators such as bees due to massive application of herbicides on some flowering crops , the more bees are killed the more Uganda will be exposed to hunger because the insects plays big role in the pollination of crops and fruits in the organic farming systems ” He added.
Commercial value of agro Ecology
According to the agitators of the system, there is high demand for organic food produces both on the local, regionally and international markets.
What should be done to adopt the system?
According to Julius Musimenta, the Deputy Executive Director AFIRD, government needs to come up with agro ecology policy if farmers are to be supported in adopting the system.
He added that the policy was drafted by the Ministry of Agriculture Animal Industry and Fisheries but the document is awaiting Cabinet.
“The document is ready but Cabinet has not approved it. As stakeholders in the agriculture sector, we shall keep on pressing the Minister for Agriculture to ensure that the documents are tabled before Cabinet,” he said.
Musimenta added that his organization has carried out research on the system and found that Agro ecology is viable in the country. He noted that currently they are working with farming groups in the central region to practice agro ecology and the results are impressive.
“These farmers are accessing our organic fertilizers to apply on their gardens and the produces are good because organic fertilizers feed the soil thus regenerating the soil fertility as compare to inorganic fertilizers which feeds only the crops,” he explained.
A lot of gaps to be filled
Although the Agitators are talking positives about the system, some farmers who shared their views with East African Business Week said there are a lot of gaps which need to filled by the agitators of Agro Ecology farming system.
Patrick Okello, a farmer from Lamwo District told East African Business Week that they need to be educated about agro ecology and that some have no capital to invest in the system. This is on top of the country lacking industries that produce agro ecology related inputs such as the organic fertilizers.
He, however, said that AFIRD has begun producing organic manures from Livestock byproducts and are also planning to partner with local and foreign investors to invest in massive production of organic fertilizers.
On capacity building, Guloba from PELUM Uganda said his organization has been conducting dialogues with farmers in various parts of the country to educate the peasants about agro ecology farming.
“Recently, the organization has been carrying out regional dialogues for agro ecology actors from various parts of the country sensitizing farmers and district leaders about the advantages associated with Agro Ecology farming.
The last dialogue was held in the mid of December at the KULIKA Training centre (Wakiso District) for farmers from the central region and before that we held other trainings in Northern and Eastern Uganda respectively and farmers are ready to adopt the farming system,” he said responding to a query from farmers in Lamwo District.
He added that during the dialogues, farmers were educated more about the dangers associated with Conventional/Industrial agriculture.
BY SAMUEL NABWIISO