For many years Siragi Lutaaya looked on helplessly as soil erosion ate into the bare hilly land and exposed the stones that had hitherto been covered by the top soil. Most of the soil ended up in the Kagera delta as it enters Lake Victoria.
For Lutaaya, 40, a farmer in Busagi village, Kyebe Sub county, in Rakai District, the most natural way had been to follow his father’s footsteps in the way he farmed. So, he hardly knew how to deal with this effect of poor farming methods.
“Like my father, I was growing coffee and bananas but the yields have been dwindling over time. This was due to poor farming methods that continuously exposed the soil to erosion by water runoff since the area is very hilly,” he says.
But Lutaaya is not an isolated case since the entire village has steep hills with barely enough vegetation cover to hold the water.
However not all was lost as interventions were initiated since 2012 to stop silting of the fertile soils into the Kagera River that runs below the hills.
It was done under the aegis of Kakuuto Community Development Project (KCDP) in conjunction with Transboundary Agro-ecosystem Management Programme for the Kagera River Basin (Kagera TAMP).
They partnered to help the locals come out of poverty and have food security as well as save the environment.
Emanuel Lubega, the project coordinator KCDP, says this will not only improve the people’s livelihoods but will also help them adapt to effects of climatic change.
“We realised that improving the environment alone would not be enough without harnessing the existing natural resources (water, soils, and trees) for the local communities to better themselves for food security and income generation,” he says.
He says the first step was to organise the farmers into farmer field schools so as to allow farmers identify their common problems and come up with locally adapted solutions that suit them.
So, they formed Alinyikira farmer field school in 2012 and they have been working together since then.
Before the intervention, Lutaaya was losing a lot of top soil on his farm to erosion and his half-acre of coffee shamba was yielding few bags of coffee. It was also limited to the upper part of his land which is not very steep. It would also be affected by the sun during the dry season.
So, under the KCDP-Kagera Tamp project, he was shown how to make use of the stones that had been exposed by the erosion to stop further damage to the land. It was to arrange them in lines and pile them up to trap the running water and the soils allowing it to sink into the soils thus allowing him to use the land for production.
He has since planted coffee, tomatoes, pineapples, cabbage, avocado and Ficus natalensis, locally known as mutuba, trees (for bark-cloth), among others.
“I have opened up two acres of land using this method and the results are very promising. I have started harvesting pineapples, tomatoes, carrots and others. In the near future I will be harvesting bark cloth from 150 mutuba trees, avocado from 100 trees and coffee,” he says.
The results are promising now that the coffee has started yielding and he has been selling the vegetables and pineapples.
“I have been growing coffee for 20 years but little did I know I could use these stones that have been a hindrance to setting up a new garden on the steep slopes of my land,” he says.
Currently, he is earning Shs1.2m but expects to earn Shs10m from the two acres as the coffee starts yielding.
He also wants to plant passion fruits to use the mituba trees for creeping. Each mutuba tree is able to produce a bark, from which bark cloth is made, in two years. Each one goes for Shs20,000 to Shs40,000 depending on the quality.
“Using stone-lines as a buffer for soil erosion restoration is a good technique but is labour intensive and very difficult, I find the challenge of digging and collecting them because some of them are very heavy,” Siraj Lutaaya, a farmer in Kakuuto, Rakai District, says.
After making these lines, the crops planted in between the lines need mulching yet the area lacks vegetation cover. He has since found it a tall order to look for grass for mulching.
“I have to trek a long distance to get the grass,” he adds. However, the areas under restoration show signs of recovery as grass has started growing.
The area is also plagued by bush fires, which originate from the delta below the hills usually started by fishermen who hunt mud fish from the swamps.
Conflict between the community and animals which move from a park in Tanzania, cross the Kagera River into Uganda, destroy crops and human beings. In one such incident, a person died due to an attack by an elephant as he guarded his crops.
Also, the land tenure system does not favour the farmers because part of the land belongs to absentee landlords. “Squatters and some bibanja holders fear to use their time and energy building the stone-lines only to be told to vacate,” Lubega says.
Lack of water, despite the proximity of the village to Kagera River, the area has only one unprotected pond in Maramagambo forest, which serves about 2,000 people. This affects working hours especially for women who have to allot their valuable time to fetching water. It also affects school-going children who assist their mothers.
The area lies in the cattle corridor and overstocking for some farmers has become a big problem with cross- border grazing with Tanzania bringing in a lot of cattle diseases. Besides, the cattle has overgrazed the area accelerating environmental degradation.