Turning words into action: improving soil and ecosystem health and productivity in the Kagera basin

The Kagera Transboundary Agro-ecosystem Management Programme (Kagera TAMP) is a FAO/GEF regional project with four East African countries that share the Kagera river basin: Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda.

With over 16.5 million people dependent on agriculture in the Kagera basin (59,700 km2), the soils and ecosystems are facing mounting pressures. Indeed, Rwanda and Burundi are ranked 25th and 29th in the world in terms of population density (averaging 380 and 444 persons per km2 respectively). In downstream parts of the basin in Uganda and Tanzania, population pressure is less, but there are pressures from crop and livestock intensification, cross border impacts from cattle movements and exploitation of natural resources and wildlife.  The basin’s land and freshwater resource bases are threatened by land degradation and climate change, including declining productive capacity, deforestation and encroachment of agriculture into wetlands and biodiversity loss. This has negative impacts on livelihoods and food security leading to poverty, conflict over resources and rural-urban migration.

Soils are part of a complex agro-ecosystem and are linked to everything around us

Soils have many functions that underpin agriculture, livestock and forestry production systems, providing a wide variety of ecosystem services. Healthy soils are the basis for plant growth and biodiversity conservation above and below ground, and for healthy food systems. Soils help to mitigate and adapt to climate change by playing a key role in the carbon cycle, and they store and filter water and improve resilience to climate variability, floods and droughts. Because of their multiple functions, soils cannot be considered in isolation but are a critical part of any agricultural ecosystem.

Over the last four years, the Kagera TAMP programme has adopted an integrated ecosystems approach for the sustainable management of land resources and agro-ecosystems in the Kagera basin in order to generate local, national and global food security and improved rural livelihoods. The project adopts this approach by using inter-sectoral cooperation that addresses the land use-livelihood system as a whole, considering both environmental and socio-economic benefits that can be obtained from more integrated land use systems and improved natural resource management practices.

Collaboration, education, training and innovation to enhance soil health

To address the challenges that soils in the region are facing, it is necessary to work with multiple actors at all levels, farmers/herders, service providers, local authorities and national institutions. To ensure success, Kagera TAMP is working with those stakeholders to enhance regional collaboration, information sharing and monitoring, to identify required institutional and policy support at district and transboundary levels, and to build capacity for land use and natural resources planning and management at community and landscape level, backed up by improved organization and decision-making processes.

A key to preventing soil degradation and associated impacts on productivity, biodiversity, climate change and livelihoods in the region is to ensure that the local population and stakeholders understand the value of and benefit from the sustainable management of  soils. Kagera TAMP achieves these aims by promoting awareness and learning by doing and empowerment through farmer field schools and catchment/ watershed committees that are guided to adopt and scale up sustainable land management practices.

Assessing and mapping degradation and SLM status and trends

A major achievement of the project was the assessment and mapping of land degradation and sustainable land management technologies across the basin (LADA-WOCAT tools). These maps help demonstrate and prioritise degradation issues (soil, water, vegetation, ecosystem functions) and priorities in the basin by analyzing degradation type, status, trend, extent, causes, impacts, and land use change. The maps also help assess the type extent and effectiveness of SLM interventions and identify those that deserve to be scaled up. This is backed up by local diagnostics and action planning and mapping at catchment level and the detailed assessment and documentation of SLM best practices for training and extension.

Outcomes of the project: Restoring degraded soils and vegetation and enhancing productivity in target catchments in Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda

Soil management and restoration

Many interesting initiatives have been undertaken to protect and restore soil productivity: soil and water conservation measures, including contour farming, terracing and water harvesting and runoff trapping pits, integrated soil fertility management, including manuring and composting through crop-livestock integration and agroforestry. On sloping lands retention ditches were dug and progressive and bench terraces constructed to restore degraded steep slopes.

Improved vegetation cover and productivity

Hundreds of thousands of tree seedlings were grown in nurseries and planted by communities in degraded lands for diverse uses, from pines and eucalyptus for poles, Calliandra and Leucena for fodder,  to coffee and fruit trees for income generation and nutrition, and bamboo for gully reclamation and river bank management. Disease resistant banana varieties (e.g. FHIA) were introduced to replace traditional varieties that were being devastated by BXW (Banana Xanthomonas Wilt) and other diseases, also trenches were dug to harvest water in banana plantations in target catchments.  Napier grass and leguminous species were planted across the slope to conserve soil and water, and provide fodder, also degraded rangelands were re-seeded for increased livestock productivity. In Tanzania, firebreaks were constructed to protect  soils and savanna lands from bushfires in the dry season.  

Sustainable use of agricultural biodiversity

These diverse interventions contribute to the conservation and sustainable use of agro-biodiversity through planning with farming communities on how to integrate different varieties and species of crops, livestock and tree species in the landscape for productive purposes, for sustaining ecological services, including soil biological activity, pollination and predation, and for enhancing resilience of farm-livelihood systems to climate change.

Experiential learning by farmers and empowerment

Through farmer field schools, farmers tested and adapted  various techniques for soil and water conservation and enhancement of soil fertility - farm manure, composts and leguminous species. Participatory hydrological monitoring was introduced in pilot catchments in Burundi and Rwanda to demonstrate land –water interactions. This has boosted local knowledge of soils and water management and rainfall variability enhancing capacity to adapt to climate change. Farmer facilitators and extension staff were trained to support farmer learning on soil and water management. Catchment committees were set up and trained in the planning and implementation of catchment plans. In Tanzania, activities were extended to local schools in order to educate children on the importance of soils for food production and climate adaptation. 

A resounding success

The Kagera TAMP project will close in June. However, it is already evident that the project has been a great success: a variety of tools, methods and attitudes are now in place and have been adopted by farmers, NGOs and service providers to promote SLM practices. Local and district authorities are aware not only of the importance of SLM but also how to invest in building capacity for SLM scaling up to  preserve healthy soils and ecosystems; contributing to sustainable and productive food systems and a food secure future for all. 

A book is being prepared on some of the lessons learned and the project terminal report will be released later this year with project outcomes and recommendations for project partners and policy makers.

For more information on the project, visit the Kagera TAMP website


Share this page