Soil testing is the missing link in Uganda’s agriculture

Despite the 2009 World Bank measurement of Uganda’s agricultural land at 69.88 per cent of total land mass, the agricultural GDP growth rate from 2010-2012 for the East African Food Basket was estimated at 1.5 per cent against 3.9 per cent and 4.6 per cent for Tanzania and Kenya respectively.
Land pollution and disputes remain a major hindrance to agricultural production in Uganda. Reaching and possibly surpassing the six per cent growth target that the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) recommends will, therefore, greatly depend on how much the population can access land and how much we can have the use thereof reflected in the household incomes, livelihoods and national development statistics.

Theodore Schultz’ 1964 publication, “Transforming Traditional Agriculture”, has a lot in common with Uganda’s Plan for Modernisation of Agriculture he argues that despite limitations in schooling, farmers in traditional agriculture settings are capable of allocating their limited resources in a highly efficient manner. This implies that with more education, farmers can use their land more effectively and guard against exploitation by wealthy urban dwellers.

Extension services should go beyond distribution of inputs and seeds to include actual use and knowledge of soil status. Since agricultural production in Uganda is majorly undertaken in rural parts of the country, the rural folk need more insight on the potential of available agricultural land in terms of which crops are suitable for the soil in the various locations.
With climate change and increased drought episodes, crop production can no longer be sustainable on land whose nutrient content and water holding capacity is unknown to the farmer. Rural farmers will be saved from big losses if soil testing is prioritised and taken out of laboratories to the farmers’ fields.

Affordable soil testing techniques and auger equipment will be vital in enabling farmers to chemically determine the plant- available content of important nutrients. Insight on the exchangeable acidity, Ph and humic matter of the soil is a vital addition and with such knowledge, farmers can determine the correct amount of fertilizer and lime to apply.
The imbalance in access to soil testing for research stations and farmers’ fields explains farmers’ low yields compared to yields from research stations.

For coffee for example, despite millions of seedlings distributed to farmers, the median yield according the 200506 National Household Survey was estimated at 369 kilogrammes per hectare for farmers’ fields against a staggering 3,500 kilogrammes per hectare for research stations.
Jointly, over the last decade, the real growth in agricultural output declined from 5.6 per cent in 19992000 to 2.6 per cent in 20078. There is need, therefore, to balance production in all areas.

A key question to address is, “If we really know how fertile our soil is, then why is the number of food insecure nationals worrying, with an increase from 12 million in 1992 to 17.7 million in 2007 and still growing?”
The commitment of the government in Chapter 6 of the Uganda National Land Policy, to fully integrate the land sector into the overall national development planning framework is great. Also important is the donation of an aanced mobile Soil Testing Laboratory handed over to the Agriculture ministry by K+S Kali GmBH, a Germany-based company.

More focus on soil testing as well as an inclusive land policy that caters for women and youth will go a long way in streamlining land use and, subsequently, agricultural productivity in Uganda as we push towards the target of an upper middle income country by 2040.
Mr Musisi is the national chairperson, pan-African Agricultural Students’ Society.

SOURCE: Daily Monitor

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