With the bacterial wilt destroying his bananas and soil erosion draining the land of its nutrients, he lost almost everything. John Bizuri tells Otushabire Tibyangye how he was able to recover from the loss.
I am John Bizuri, a resident of Rubagano village, Kigaaga Parish, Mwizi Sub-county in Mbarara District. I am a banana farmer but have had many challenges due to the Banana Bacterial Wilt (BBW) disease, which devastated the area in 2005.
The situation was so bad that it was almost impossible to find a banana plantation in the village that had not been affected by the disease.
I lost three acres and remained with only half an acre. This brought me to my knees, I was producing only small bunches yet I depended on banana for income. There was not even enough food for my family.
Besides the disease, the soils had been depleted of nutrients, and since it is a hilly area, I was also losing the top soil due to poor farming methods.
After losing the banana plantation, I planted coffee, which are now yielding some harvests. I have also used the same piece of land to re-establish a fresh banana plantation.
I was a beneficiary of an initiative in which farmers were being trained to mitigate the effects of BBW. One of the methods used was to uproot the affected plants and bury them.
It was an intervention of Kagera Trans-boundary Agro-ecosystem Management Project (Tamp), which focused on improving farmers’ livelihoods through rehabilitation of soils and harnessing water.
Most of the methods taught to us are indigenous and do not require outside intervention other than improvement of the indigenous knowledge.
I have been taught how to improve soil fertility through digging ditches, commonly known as ensania, in our banana plantations for retention of run-off water, which causes soil erosion.
I fill the ditches with banana stem cuttings, green manure, kitchen leftovers, animal dung and any other degradable materials which end up decomposing and providing manure to the bananas.
Within the two years I have implemented this intervention, my plantation has improved tremendously almost bringing me back to the old days.
Currently, I produce about 150 bunches per month and they are very big ones. Around the time, this project started, I had replanted some of the bananas but they were not performing well.
This method has been effective since mine and my neighbours’ plantations have improved tremendously. This has largely succeeded because we share knowledge through farmer field schools and exchange visits to see best practices of other farmers in different locations, where the project is running.
I have also learnt to mulch part of the garden with grass so as to stem off the runoffs and also to keep the soils moist during the dry season.
Another intervention has been to plant Napier grass across the hills to trap the water that would otherwise wash away the top-most fertile soils. I use the Napier grass to feed the goats, whose droppings in turn provide manure for the banana plantations.
I have been able to eradicate the BBW disease, re-established my banana plantation to its former state, increased banana yields and diversified my income through coffee and some goats. I have also learnt new methods of farming.