UGANDA: CONSERVATION AGRICULTURE FOR IMPROVED LAND MANAGEMENT AND LIVELIHOODS OF SMALLHOLDER FARMERS
80% of Uganda families rely on agriculture to feed their families and, in most cases, earn a meagre income, although large parts of the country, such as Southern Uganda have substantial natural resources, fertile soils, regular rainfall and good opportunities for a range of crop and livestock enterprises. Natural resource degradation in Uganda is extremely high as farmers' subsistence farming practices lead to environmental degradation and declined soil productivity. This is why the Government of Uganda requested FAO's technical and financial assistance to implement a pilot project aimed at introducing Conservation Agriculture (CA) principles as an integral part of improved land management and livelihood strategies of smallholder farmers.
Conservation efforts stepped up
A TCP pilot project with a budget of US$ 371,000 was launched in 2002, for a two-year period, in collaboration with the National Agricultural Research Organization Institutes (NARO), the Africa 2000 Network (an active NGO supporting farmer extension) and the local government extension departments. Activities were guided by INSPIRE a partnership network to promote soil productivity improvement. The project aimed at demonstrating the relevance of CA systems in Uganda and their multiple benefits in terms of productivity (labour, income, product diversification), sustainable use of resources (biodiverse and resilient land use systems) and environmental services (water supply and quality, erosion control, nutrient cycling). It also explored opportunities for scaling up improved land and water management, building on CA principles, from farm to micro-catchment levels for both hilly, fertile, humid lands used for intensive cropping (represented by Mbale district) and drier, less fertile, crop-livestock system, where animal traction is prevalent (represented by Pallisa district).
"Learning by doing"
Community action plans for demonstrating CA and improved land and water resources management were developed in 4 selected micro-catchments in each pilot district, with a view to restoring degraded lands and improving productivity, sustainable livelihoods and food security. Farmers, extension agents and technicians in selected districts were trained in the Farmer Field School approach - which applies "learning by doing" methods - for farmer driven research on improved land and water management. Over the project , Forty eight Farmer Field Schools (FFS) were established. Participating farmers and communities were actively involved in a learning process to test, monitor and adapt the improved practices. Several new suitable cover crop species were introduced aiming to provide a protective cover on the soil for as long as possible and to contribute much needed soil organic matter. Agroforestry species were also demonstrated and evaluated for use on-farm and in the villages to provide additional fodder, mulch and fuelwood. Seed production plots were successfully established, enabling farmers to multiply seed according to the needs of their farms. Significant benefits were obtained in terms of improved crop-livestock systems productivity, reduced labour through zero/minimum tillage and cover crops which suppress weed growth, improved use of inputs, improved biodiversity and better environmental conservation.
Reaching new heights.... thanks to support from the Government of Norway
The positive results of this pilot project have already encouraged the government, through its National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS) programme (which works through private service providers), to scale out the pilot experiences across Mbale and Pallisa districts. This is a pilot exercise to evaluate results for further expanding Conservation Agriculture and micro-catchment land and water management approaches through NAADS across many other districts and regions. The TCP trained NAADS staff and service providers in December 2005 and is continuing to provide technical support. This extension of activities beyond the scope of the original TCP was possible through valuable support of a Government of Norway Trust Fund project for Scaling up of FFS on Land and Water Management in Eastern and Southern Africa. Also supported by Norway was Uganda's active participation in the 3rd World Congress on Conservation Agriculture (Nairobi, October 2005) allowing representative farmers, extension staff and researchers to present the project results to a worldwide audience through discussion fora, case studies and a video film. These materials are available for wider awareness raising in Uganda of the opportunities for environmental friendly agriculture and improved productivity and food security, in accordance with the Millennium Development goals.
With the replacement of ploughing by direct seeding with an adapted hand or animal drawn tool, through a cover crop which increases soil organic matter, the Conservation Agriculture concept reverses the soil degradation process and restores a healthy living soil, achieving sustained agricultural production while reducing the risk and drudgery of farming.