By Prossy Nandudu
Mount Elgon region is one of the areas with a fragile ecosystem characterized with mudslides, landslides and flooding. During flooding, the water washes away the top soil full of nutrients needed for plant growth. It means that farmers have to apply fertilizers.
But because the cost of fertilizers is high, alternatives such as plants or intercropping food crops and trees, also known as fertilizer trees could be the solution.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the practice is one of the promising ways of addressing social, economic, and environmental challenges in addition to increasing farm productivity, improving water management, mitigating and adapting to climate change, and bolstering biodiversity conservation.
Because of its fragile nature, researchers from the National Forestry Resources Research Institute (NaFORRI) through the Agroforestry Research Programme are promoting agroforestry trees in the region to not only hold the soils together but also replace lost nutrients in the soil.
According to Dr. Joel Buyinza, a forester and researcher from NaFORRI, the trees being considered are Albizia coriaria and Cordia africana. Buyinza adds that the trees are also called fertilizer trees because they have root nodules that contain a bacteria called rhizobia.
The Rhizobia fix nitrogen in the soil to make it accessible to the crops that a farmer could have planted. Additionally, when the leaves of these trees fall and decompose, they form a rich organic matter which can also be accessed by crops.
With fertilizers naturally generated, farmers will not go through the hustle of buying inorganic fertilizers whose prices have since increased due to Covid 19 lock downs that disrupted manufacturing in most parts of the world.
Apart from improving soil fertility, the trees will provide firewood, charcoal and poles for construction and fruits, while also acting as a livelihood source where farmers sell the tree products to generate additional household income. Growing trees on farm will therefore protect existing naturally growing trees, threatened with the growing demand for fuel wood and construction.
The Ministry of Water and Environment’s 10-year action plan for the restoration of degraded environment, reported that the forest cover decreased from 53% in 1900 to 24% in 1990 and then 12.4% in 2017, representing a loss of 2.4 million hectares during the period.
The major drivers of deforestation are agricultural activities, urban settlement, unsustainable timber and wood extraction, wild fire and weak enforcement among others, adds the document from the ministry.