Thursday July 12 2018

After 500million years of working the land, Uganda’s soils undergoing last key changes - soil scientist

A farmer in Amuru district uses a tracto

A farmer in Amuru district uses a tractor to till his garden. PHOTO BY TOBBIAS JOLLY OWINY  

By ISMAIL MUSA LADU

Do you test your soil before planting?

Is the crop you’re planting perfectly suited to the quality of soils in your field?

And did you know that it is important to understand the nature and quality of the soils before planting?   

If your responses to the aforementioned questions are in affirmative then you are doing the right thing.

But if your answers are in negatives then you need to change and you need to do it quickly.

This is because good soils make fine gardens and the quality of soil determines the yields a farmer gets, as long as all other factors remain constant.

Importantly perhaps, after more than 500 million years of working the land, a cross-section of scientists now believe that Uganda’s fields have already entered the final stages of weathering.

This means that the soils fertility of the land is not the same anymore. The situation has been worsened by bad farming practices, swamp degradation and over working the land among other factors.

And this calls for proper and professional way of farming before things gets any worse or out of control.

But first, the farmers and those involved in agricultural value chain must undergo a mindset shift. And this must begin now.     

“… to adopt profit oriented farming fundamentally takes a shift in mind set, behaviour change, adoption of  new technologies, market structures, business skills that can promote  sustainable soil fertility, business growth, trade and investment, the Country Coordinator, AgriProFocus Uganda, Ms Lucy Asiimwe Twinamasiko said in a statement issued ahead of a consultative meeting that happened last week at Bugolobi in Kampala.

More than 500 years of working the soil

The statement further quoted her as saying: “Although In Uganda, farmers continue to boast of rich soils, farmers could be headed for hard times if they don’t adopt good soil management practices,” Ms Twinamasiko said in a statement issued late last week by Ms Gloria Kyomugisha, the AgriProFocus Uganda communications officer.

It is for this reason (alarming soil fertility degradation) that the  AgriProFocus Uganda Network in Collaboration with SoilCares are having a consultative meeting in Kampala tomorrow to explore the possibility of establishing a soil care community of practice.

The invitational consultative meeting on a Soil Care community of practice 2018 focuses on sharing expert knowledge, experiences and technological solutions related to soil fertility management in Uganda.

Importantly perhaps, stakeholders involved such as the farmers, including the government must realized that after working the land for over five centuries, it is time proper methods of farming is observed to the letter and the illusion that the soils are still as virgin as it were centuries ago should be discarded.  

“Uganda is blessed with a wide diversity of natural resources: soil, climate, water and vegetation, enabling it to grow a large number of adapted crops. However, most soils in Uganda are older than 500 million years and are in their final stage of weathering,” Dr Christy van Beek, Director SoilCares Foundation, Chief Agronomist SoilCares said in the statement.

Worth knowing…

The predominant minerals in the soils are quartz and kaolinite that don’t directly supply nutrients to soils. The soils are acidic and infertile with low cation exchange capacity (CEC).

Over the years, food production has been characterised by subsistence farming. A subsistence production system usually focuses on a maximizing short-term profit, consuming natural stocks of plant nutrients. Such a farming system has resulted in soil fertility degradation through nutrient mining.

The community of practice to be established, would further look into what is needed to tackle the soil challenges efficiently and effectively.

The consultations that will happen tomorrow will therefore provide an overview of the soil fertility situation in Uganda from National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO).

With the meeting aimed at raising awareness about soil fertility, SoilCares, a major stakeholder, will offer highlights on their latest technology used in soil testing.

The technology emphasizes how crucial soil testing is for increasing agricultural production, getting farmers to know how best to treat their soil, so that in turn it can give the maximum yield they need.

Target audience:

The consultative meeting that happened last week brought together development partners, farmer representatives, knowledge institutes, Cooperatives, Government officials and individual farmers and organisations to build a long term soil care community.

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