How to ensure your soil retains moisture
What you need to know:
- The farmer practicing agro-ecology is conscious of the existence of several other useful living things in the area where he grows the crops, such as the bees and other pollinators, of the need to preserve soil fertility, and of the importance of other crops such as traditional medicinal plants, climbing pulses and edible insects.
Agriculturalists define agro-ecology as the practice of producing crops with the natural environment and biodiversity in mind.
The farmer practicing agro-ecology is conscious of the existence of several other useful living things in the area where he grows the crops, such as the bees and other pollinators, of the need to preserve soil fertility, and of the importance of other crops such as traditional medicinal plants, climbing pulses and edible insects.
The farmer must also apply climate change mitigation practices. One of the best examples of a farmer practicing agro-ecology is Jawali Waniaye of Bumboi Ward, Bumadi Cell, Industrial Division, Mbale City.
Last week he hosted a group of organic farmers from across Uganda at his home to show them how he was going about his work as an agro-ecologist. It was an opportunity to learn and to exchange ideas for the 20 visiting farmers who were all members of Slow Food, an international organisation that advocates for good, clean, and fair food.
Jawali lives and works on about one acre of land where he grows a variety of crops the main one of which is the endangered variety of Arabica coffee commonly known as Nyasaland.
Not much research has been carried out on this type of Arabic coffee variety as the government’s interest is more focused on other varieties such as SL14 and SL28 which have larger bean sizes. “We have continued to grow Nyasaland because it is tolerant to diseases and it has a very good aroma which has earned it a very good market in Europe. We have hosted a number of visitors from Italy, France and Germany wishing to see how the coffee they drink is grown,” he says.
Jawali who is a retired Agricultural Services Extension Officer is well grounded in soil science and crop production. He is also the chairman of Slow Food member farmers in the community all of whom have chosen to grow crops by practicing agro-ecology.
They live on the lower slopes of the Mt Elgon range and they are constantly fighting soil erosion. To carry this out successfully Jawali advises all the farmers, as he has done himself, to dig water bands (gullies) every after five meters to trap runoff water and to discourage soil erosion.
All along the soil heaps on the gullies he advises farmers to fodder grass or crops such as tangawizi (ginger) or potatoes which further act as soil traps to prevent erosion.
He also does mulching all over the garden not only to control soil erosion but also to support moisture retention in the soil. He has a number of native trees growing in the coffee garden where he also grows bananas.
He keeps trees
He has several reasons for keeping trees growing in his garden. They provide support for yam vines to climb and hang on. He grows a lot of yams besides coffee and bananas. Eddie Mukiibi, International President of Slow Food, and National President of the organisation in Uganda, who was among the farmers visiting Jawali’s farm, explained one of the advantages of planting trees like Mackemia in gardens.
“They have long, strong roots that feed from far deep underground without competing with ordinary crops such as bananas and coffee whose roots get nutrients from just near the ground surface. The trees then drop their dry leaves on the ground where they cover the soil like mulch and turn into fertilisers on decomposition.”
Mukiibi also said the trees protect crops against rainstorms and strong winds. He further said when hot wind blows over trees and other plants such as bananas it cools down and reduces heat wherever it continues to blow. Trees are said to attract rainfall and to mitigate climate change.
On their farms the farmers also keep bees. Jawali says, “Bees play an important role in pollination and one of the reasons the farmer is encouraged to keep bees is to enhance fruition of crops. Apart from that, honey is food and a source of income to the farmer.”
It was obvious that the coffee trees were bulging with flower buds that were bound to unfold and turn into flowers after the next rainfall. Jawali revealed that he harvests an average of 14 gunny bags of coffee every year. The coffee berries must be red and ripe at the time of harvesting.
He carefully removes weeds with a hand hoe or with the bare hands. He is also conscious that mindless usage of artificial pesticides and fertilisers can destroy organisms that are important for sustaining soil fertility. Since most of the surface in the garden is under mulch there is little chance for the weeds to grow anyway. To kill pests or to prevent them from climbing up the coffee trees he places ash from the kitchen on the tree stems.
There is sufficient space in the garden for intercropping and the farmer plants maize and beans as well as other local vegetables during the rainy season. Farmers who practice agro-ecology have a bigger opportunity to grow traditional food crop varieties that have been farmed in their communities for centuries. The visiting farmers at Jawali’s farm were served with malewa which is a traditional delicacy among the Gishu people. They had traditional York yams and pumpkin --- all grown on Jawali’s farm.
Farmers such as Jawali can honestly be said to have physical access to sufficient, safe, clean, and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food choices all the time.