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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Sustainable crop solutions for Uganda

A team of American and Ugandan researchers worked with local farmers to test low-cost soil management alternatives in eastern Uganda. While each alternative soil treatment increased crop output, findings suggest that the best treatment plan varies from farmer to farmer as it is dependent on other factors.

Scientists from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the National Agricultural Research Organization in Uganda have joined local, eastern Ugandan farmers to evaluate the effectiveness of low-cost alternatives for soil treatment. By implementing alternative soil fertility management and a reduction in crop tillage, scientists hope to help small-scale farmers increase their crop yields.

Maintaining or improving the productivity of the ancient, weathered soils of eastern Uganda is a major challenge for small-scale, resource-poor farmers. Many Ugandan farmers are forced to work with soils with negligible amounts of nitrogen and phosphorous. Often, the cost to treat soils outweighs crop profits. To prevent soil degradation throughout the region, better soil management is needed.

With the help of local Ugandan farmers, the following management alternatives were investigated:

  • Short-term fallow using mucuna, a herbaceous annual legume
  • Cowpea rotation with sorghum
  • Manure application
  • Nitrogen and phosphorus applied as fertilizer
  • Reduced tillage
Several soil fertility management practices and reduced tillage were cost effective in increasing sorghum crop yield in the region where little inorganic fertilizer is used.

“On-farm profitability and food security for sorghum production systems can be improved by use of inorganic fertilizers, manure, mucuna fallow, sorghum-cowpea rotation, and reduced tillage,” said Charles Wortmann, a co-author of the study.

The most beneficial alternative practice to increasing crop output will vary according to each farmer’s situation. While manure application may be best for fields on farms that also house animals as the source of the manure, farmers who do not have the means to purchase fertilizer may profit more from the use of the cowpea-sorghum rotation or mucuna fallow.

“The [Ugandan] farmers now participate in extension activities to inform farmers in other communities about this menu of management alternatives,” said Wortmann. “This approach to research and extension takes advantage of the local knowledge of farmers, is cost-effective, and is easily replicable for addressing crop production problems of small scale farmers throughout Africa.”

Wortmann and other scientists are continuing on-going studies to address the long-term sustainability of the alternative, low input practices.

Greener Magazine


The American Society of Agronomy (ASA) http://www.agronomy.org, the Crop Science Society of America (CSSA) http://www.crops.org and the Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) www.soils.org



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