Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Farming in the mountain’s shadow, Uganda

ACIAR's Forestry research program manager, Tony Bartlett, recently visited Uganda where a new agroforestry project is beginning...

On a recent visit to Uganda, I visited the small village of Butta, which lies in the foothills of Mt Elgon, to talk about the villagers' participation in a new agroforestry project: ‘Trees for Food Security’. The aim of this project is to encourage and support farmers to grow trees on farms for improved food and nutritional security. Previous research has indicated that crop yields can be doubled by incorporating the right trees and management practices into agricultural systems.

In the shadow of the mountain, Manafwa district

There was a very strong recognition among the farmers of the need to change their land management practices, and they are very eager to become involved in the project.

They explained that this project would bring them prosperity ‘like the rains’. They were honoured that someone from Australia would visit their village and provide funding to help them improve their farming systems.

As part of the culture of the Luhya people who inhabit this region and neighbouring parts of Kenya, they gave me with a local name, ‘Wafula’, which is traditionally given to males born in the rainy season.

This project, funded through ACIAR’s Australian International Food Security Research Centre, is about to begin its research activities in Uganda after focusing initial efforts in Rwanda and Uganda during its first two years. Partner staff from the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) and the Uganda National Forestry Research Institute (NaFORRI) have selected sites suitable for running participatory trials with farmers to explore the scaling out of evergreen agroforestry systems.

Tony speaking with villagers at Namabya
Following the official launch of the project in Uganda, we travelled for 5 hours to the town of Mbale to look at the selected trial sites and to meet some of the villagers. When we explained the project to the villagers of Namabya and Butta, they were very interested in the concept of using trees to improve soil fertility and to reduce soil erosion, which they said greatly affected the productivity of their agricultural crops.

The proposed sites are in Manafwa District, located in eastern Uganda near Mt Elgon and the border with Kenya. This area was selected because it has a wide range of elevation zones (1100–4200 metres above sea level) in which we can trial different systems. It also has some significant environmental issues, such as prevalent landslides and soil erosion, which we are keen to address through appropriate agroforestry planting.

Farming landscapes around Butta
The area is densely populated, with over 1000 people per square kilometre, and about a third of these are living in poverty. The area is intensely cultivated, with very little remnant vegetation in the lower and middle elevations. Subsistence farmers are growing maize, millet, cassava, sweet potato, rice and vegetables. Bananas and coffee are planted in the higher elevation zones and some trees, including eucalypts, are also planted by farmers.

There is a history and culture of tree planting in the communities in this region, arising from previous agroforestry and Landcare projects. I was delighted to see how enthusiastic the farmers are about being involved in this new project. The research should bring them both environmental and livelihood benefits.
Farming systems near Namabya

By Tony Bartlett, ACIAR's Forestry research program manager

More information:
ACIAR Project FSC/2012/014 ‘Trees for Food Security’ - Improving sustainable productivity in farming systems and evergreen agriculture in eastern Africa is being led by the World Agroforestry Centre.

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