Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Declining soil fertility threatens Uganda’s food security

Rice with phosphorus fertilizer (L) and in the native soil (R)

Declining soil fertility threatens Uganda’s food security

An interesting article appeared in the "Daily Monitor" about the necessity of providing an adequate supply of nutrients to crops.
The scientific issues are pretty straightforward, but the political, social, and economic hurdles are a real challenge.

There is a declining trend in food production in Uganda today mainly attributed to reduced soil fertility.  Given  that 70 per cent of Uganda is engaged in subsistence farming for food production, the declining soil fertility has serious socio-economic consequences on livelihood. 
“As you may be aware, low and declining soil fertility is one of the most limiting factors to agriculture production and productivity apart from overgrazing, over cropping and soil erosion across Uganda,” Mr Komayombi Bulegeya, the commissioner of Crop Protection at the Ministry of Agriculture, said. He was speaking during a one-day workshop on the development of national fertiliser policy, regulation and strategy for Uganda in Kampala last week.

He said food production is growing less than 3 per cent annually yet the population is increasing at the rate of 3.2 per cent annually and this is bound to cause mass food shortage.
To avert the problem, Mr Komayombi recommended the use of both organic and inorganic fertilizer.
“We must use fertilisers in order to reverse the declining nature of our soil so as to enhance food security, farmers’ incomes and widening agriculture export base,” he said.
Low use of fertilisers
Uganda uses only one kilogramme per hectare annually compared to Tanzania which uses 6 kg/ha annually and Kenya 32kg/ha contrary to the recommended volumes of 200kg/ha/year.

The poor use of fertilisers in Uganda, according to experts, has mainly been caused by farmers misconception that Uganda’s soil is still fertile.  Financial challenges also hinder the use of fertilisers because the ordinary farmer can not afford a bag of fertilisers.  Farmers, however, say the level of counterfeit farm inputs on the market have discouraged them  from using fertilisers.

“Often most of the fertilisers being supplied add no value to the soil yet they are very expensive,” one of the farmers who attended the workshop told Business Power.
The fact that Uganda is landlocked, the rising cost of road transport and the fact that fertilisers are on demand seasonally have discouraged traders into venturing in that line of business. 
Soil sampling
Dr Peter Ebanyah, a lecturer in the department of agricultural productivity at Makerere University advised farmers to find out the nature of their soil composition before they buy fertilisers.
“It’s not just about using any fertiliser you come along since they all contain different mineral and nutrients and the wrong administration of these inorganic fertilisers will not improve your soil fertility,” he said.
“Conducting soil testing is very important in order to make the right purchase. Also, there are times when the soil has degraded a lot and in such a case it advisable to use both organic and inorganic fertilizers to boost the soil fertility.”
Dr Sarah Ssewanyana, the executive director Economic Policy Research Centre, recommended that there is need of having a national policy and regulation to guide and promote increased use of fertilisers use in Uganda.
Annually, the country imports about 25,000 metric tonnes of fertilisers. 80 per cent goes to the tea, sugarcane and coffee estates while the small farmers who are the main food producers only get 20 per cent and thus the need for the government and other stake holders to formulate good policies that will facilitate the ordinary farmer to access good and affordable fertilisers.

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