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May 31, 2012

Uganda's declining soil fertility

Uganda is famed for its fertile volcanic soils and its generally agriculture-friendly climate. A pattern of  colonization quite different from neighboring Kenya's meant that Uganda did not significantly have large scale intensive farming and its associated significant, accelerated soil fertility loss, nor the accompanying heavy fertilizer use to compensate.

Depending on one's perspective, the overwhelming reliance on small scale and 'traditional' farming methods is part of the country's problem (relatively low yields) or it is part of Uganda's positives, because the land has remained relatively pristine and 'uncontaminated' by intensive farming and agro-chemicals. It could be a little bit of both, but to agro-ideologues who see things in black and white rather than in shades of grey/gray, you must take a stand and choose one or the other position.

Nevertheless, Uganda's natural soil richness and the relative absence of 'modern' farming has not spared the country from declining soil fertility.

Described by the New Vision newspaper as Uganda's first soil scientist, Professor Kitungulu Zaake is quoted as saying the country is experiencing an alarming loss of soil fertility, and that soil supplementation needs to be paid attention to as a matter of urgency.

According to Zaake, soil fertility declines account for a drop from an annual four million bags of coffee to three million bags. Yields of various type of banana, the country's main staple crop, have fallen from 10 tonnes a hectare to seven tonnes a hectare, according to him, with production sustained by the opening up of new cultivation areas.

Zaake says striga weed, a parasite which chokes the growth of maize and other grains and thrives in poor soils, is spreading widely, further endangering food security. He also says the high incidence of previously unknown crop diseases can also be attributed to poor soils.

What to do? 'Use more fertilizer' is one quick answer. A study quoted in the New Vision report found that Uganda's  fertilizer use averages 1.8kg per hectare a year, way below the average sub-Saharan Africa level, which at an estimated eight tonnes per hectare per year is already considered very low in global terms.

The article: Looming hunger as Uganda’s soils get barren.

African Agriculture



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