The mineral that boosts soils and crop yields

A senior Ugandan geologist has disclosed how vermiculite mineral deposits in Manafwa District, eastern region, can contribute to the transformation of Uganda’s crop output by three to five times the current production levels.
Nathan Wolukawu Wanda, chief executive officer, Agro-Minerals Africa Uganda, says vermiculite, a naturally occurring mineral found at Namekhala, Butiru sub-county in Manafwa District, that has ability to improve the soils’ and plants’ capacity to capture large amounts of the essential nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium,ammonium, calcium and magnesium, for healthy, better and rapid plant-growth.

Various uses
“Vermiculite has the excellent properties to be essential component for seedling, planting, germination and cutting. When combined with organic material (peat, coco-peat and compost), vermiculite promotes faster root growth and gives quick anchorage to young roots.
The mixture helps retain air, plant-food and moisture, releasing them as the plant requires them,” Wolukawu said.
Vermiculite has been used in various industries for more than 100 years. It is used in construction and agriculture.
Scientific sources indicate that vermiculite is very light in weight, easy to handle and easily mixes with soil, peat, coco-peat, compost, fertilisers and perlite. Its use as a carrier and bulking agent ensures even distribution in mixing operations.
Wolukawu, who has invested in constructing a processing plant (kiln), plans to convert vermiculite rock collected from Namekhala, into refined vermiculite for agricultural applications.
The processing kiln is under construction at Namakye, Bulusambu Village, Busiu Sub-county in Mbale District from where farmers will access the farm-boosting mineral in the near future.
“Vermiculite is a wonder mineral in the many ways it supports agriculture, in particular root-development, leading to high yields. For example, experiments with cotton show that the normal number of pods per plant without vermiculite is about 15-20 but with vermiculite we get up to 120 health pods,” he affirmed.

Soil as a big factor
Wolukawu told Seeds of Gold that one of the limiting factors to higher yields for most farmers are the exhausted soils.
Whereas, quality of seed, crop-field management (agronomy) and effect of bad weather (drought or floods) matter, the soil factor is a bigger one as it contributes over 60 per cent to crop failure or success.
Wolukawu argues: “This is from a geology point of view. It is in the soil that we sow seed, it is where the seed gets its warmth, moisture and minerals (potassium, zinc, magnesium, iron and copper, to enable germination, leaf, pods and fruit-formation. Therefore, when we avail to the farmers or their crops with a minerals’ intake-enhancement agent (vermiculite), we’d aid better and efficient plant-growth and yields.”

Take caution
He warns that the notion that Uganda is fertile is too generalised, misused and misleading. When an area is grown with crops for 10-20 years, it will have run out of natural fertility.
He asked: “Therefore farmers must be taught on how to step up soil-fertility improvement practices. Either apply fertiliser appropriately or use of crops’ nutrient-intake enhancement agents like vermiculite. But to do nothing about improving soil fertility is futile to our agriculture, when population and demand for food are on the rise?”
Wolukawu worked at Kilembe Copper Cobalt Mines, Zambia’s Copper belt, Uganda Cement Industries, Tororo Cement Industry, and Canmin Resources Ltd. He is the founder Chairman of Uganda Chamber of Mines. Today, Wolukawu is a minerals’ consultant, a member of Uganda Chamber of Mines and Petroleum.

What is vermiculite

Vermiculite consists of shiny flakes, resembling mica. When heated to a high temperature, flakes of vermiculite expand as much as eight to 30 times their original size. The expanded vermiculite is a light-weight, fire-resistant, and odourless material and has been used in numerous products, including insulation for attics and walls.
Sizes of vermiculite products range from very fine particles to large (coarse) pieces nearly an inch long.
Canmin Resources Ltd, a company that started mining and processes vermiculite for export and for the local market in Uganda, started evaluating vermiculite in Manafwa in the late 1990s. It puts theNamekhala vermiculite as a proven reserve of five million tonnes “of the best vermiculite in the world.
The vermiculite has a rare attribute (the only known such vermiculite deposit) of having soil fertility properties.
The Organic Materials Review Institute has certified that for crops grown in Uganda its vermiculite is organic without asbestos traces.

editorial@ug.nationmedia.com

SOURCE: Daily Monitor

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