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Agriculture

Poor farming methods waning away Mt Elgon fertility

Farming at the slopes of Mt Elgon at the 2010 Nametsi mudslide scar mudslide scar. (Photo by DAVID MAFABI)

BULAMBULI-Mr Ezekiel Gibuzale, 69, a traditional farmer in Buginyanya stood still in his garden, looked at the few scattered crops in his garden in disbelief.

 

He took a deep breath and said, “This garden can no longer support the coffee and bananas I used to grow, the soils look to have turned barren.”

Gibuzale says he used to harvest an 800Kg of coffee from his four-acre piece of land but now the soils are degraded due to constant soil erosion from the hills.

But Gibuzale is not alone; many farmers at Mt Elgon sub-region [Sebei and Bugisu sub-regions] say the productivity in their gardens has reduced drastically because the soils no longer support plant growth.

“We now have to apply fertilizers to increase on productivity of our soils to produce bananas, coffee, Irish potatoes, carrots and passion fruits in our gardens because the soils can no longer support plant growth,” said Ms. Olivia Nabudde, also a peasant farmer from Masila in Bulambuli.

As one moves slowly along the empty paths in Mt Elgon sub-region, past willows and scattered forest trees to places where you can clearly see the hitherto fertile valley, most of the trees planted at the hills are no more, the vegetation is no longer there but settlements and cleared parts of land that expose soils to erosion are seen.

The volcanic fertile loamy soils that used to be at this mountain slopes are no more due to a combination of several factors like anti-environmental human activities; deforestation and poor farming methods by the local traditional farmers.

According to Mt Elgon are conservation manager Mr. Fred Kizza, the forest soils have adequate physical, biological and chemical properties to maintain and improve vegetation growth, hydrologic functions, nutrients cycling and slope stability but that over cultivation coupled with poor farming methods have destroyed the soils.

Farming taking place at Nametsi mudslide scar now. The entire ridge is planted with crops. (Photo by David Mafabi)

Mr Kizza explained that soil productivity is sustained through nitrogen and carbon dioxide fixation, mineral release from weathering parent materials, coarse debris and other decaying matter and translocation of nutrients and that all this is reducing because of encroachment along the steep slopes of Mt Elgon that have given way to uncontrollable soil erosion.

 

“Threats of biodiversity indicate that human life living around the mountain is in danger unless we change the farming methods and adapt to new methods of controlling soil erosion like cultivating along the hills by terracing and using contours,” said Mr Kizza.

Mr Charles Wakube, the Mbale district environment officer said generating three centimeters of topsoil takes 1,000 years, and that if current rates of degradation continue Mt Elgon topsoil could be gone within the next 50 years.

He explained that the causes of soil destruction at Mt Elgon include chemical-heavy farming techniques, deforestation which increases erosion, and global warming and that the most significant way that organic farmers increase soil fertility on their crops is by preserving soil organisms.

Dr Mary Gorette Kitutu, the state minister for environment said due to the ever-increasing population, people have encroached on the forest cover on the mountain for settlement and farming leaving the soils bare and exposed to erosion.

She revealed that farming methods being practiced by residents are unfavorable for the soil and warned that ‘if this process continues, it will result in further loss of fertility and landslides at the Mountain,” said Dr Kitutu.

National Environment and Management Authority [NEMA] and Uganda Wildlife Authority [UWA] have warned small mudflows observed on Mt Elgon with many water openings are an indication that the rocks are under tension and that some small cracks formed due to bad farming practices, footpaths as well as road construction on the slopes make Mt Elgon prone to mudslides.

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