Opinion: The New Songhai Model Could Transform Small Holder Farmers Across Uganda

By Stuart Oramire

Sometime back I wrote in these very pages how Government’s numerous interventions in the Agricultural sector continued to ignore one core component of farm productivity – promoting the use of affordable and environmentally friendly fertilizers.  This challenge has been exacerbated by lack of enough extension workers to train farmers in the best farming practices. Current studies estimate the extension worker to farmer ratio at one extension worker for every fifty thousand farmer households. A staggering disparity.  With over 7 million farming households, can take more than one year for an extension worker to cover a few hundred households. The restructuring of National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS) and the introduction of the single spine system where the Agricultural advisory services function reverted to the line ministry. The ministry has made attempts at improving advisory services. However, the shortage of extension services remains a huge challenge.

In Uganda today, one of the biggest bottlenecks to agriculture has been rampant land fragmentation. Most farming households in rural areas live and depend on one acre of land or even less. Yet, the perennial dependence on such small tracts of land for mainly subsistence farming all year round has greatly contributed to soil exhaustion, vulnerability to pests and diseases and reduced farm yields.  This partly explains why most farming households are struggling with a chronic cycle of famine and poverty. In the absence of affordable fertilizers and extension services, the average small holder farmer in Uganda must rely on nature dependent farming to strenuously eke out a living from farming.

This now brings me to the recently introduced Songhai model of farming that could revolutionize farming in the country by maintaining soil fertility and improving yields. The Songhai model, a brain child of Pius Bigirimana, the hardworking Permanent Secretary of Ministry of Gender Labour and Social Development, is an integrated agriculture production system that combines plant production, animal production, and fish farming while each energizing the other.  The model was inspired by PS Bigirimana’s visit to Benin where he witnessed the use of organic matter to turn barren land into arable land favorable for integrated food production. This model emphasizes use of organic matter in form of residues of harvested food crops, vegetables, perennial crops, and the by-products generated by fish and livestock like litter and droppings that are decomposed and used as composite manure to maintain soil fertility and improved farm production.

The model is affordable even for a subsistence farmer and unlike chemical fertilizers; the use of organic manure protects the environment. The model also has a regenerative capability that promotes a real greening of agriculture through an ecosystem approach that draws nature’s contributions to crop and animal growth such as soil organic matter and soil micro-organisms, rainfall, pollination and bio-control and eco services.  The model uses a simple and affordable system of organic matter composition to generate organic manure that guarantees high and quality farm yields. This is the basis of the models’ catchphrase that Mr.Bigirimana and the technical team have emphasized, “Better and More with less”

In Uganda today, Agriculture remains Uganda’s main stay with over 60% of the population deriving their livelihood from the sector. Yet over 60% of the farming households are small holder farmers engaged in subsistence farming. Most of these farmers possess a few acres of land that is used mainly for food production.  Because of lack of inputs like fertilizers and knowledge in best farming practices, most of these small parcels of land have become almost barren. This partly explains why Operation wealth creation has had challenges with inputs distribution. The President’s flagship program of the 4 acre model has encountered similar challenges because most small holder farmers are grappling with food production amidst challenges of soil exhaustion, vagaries of climate change, pests and crop diseases and environmental degradation.

The Songhai farming system, if well managed and continuously improved, could therefore be instrumental in helping the average small holder farmer to improve farm production using accessible, affordable and environmentally friendly resources. The model will further enhance production of clean and affordable energy and the creation of green jobs for the youth. The establishment of a model farm as an experimental farm at Kampiringisa will be pivotal in providing the farmers with the much needed integrated extension services in best farming practices through demonstrations and improvements in agricultural techniques.

The writer is a Lawyer & Educationist.



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