Uganda’s low fertilizer use worries experts

Zai Pit Farming
Zai pit farming is a traditional dry-land soil restoration technique that originated in Mali. Courtesy Photo.

Kampala, Uganda | By Michael Wandati | Uganda’s agricultural and soil experts are expressing concern over the country’s low adoption of fertilizers.

Over the years, there has been a gradual decline in soil fertility and nutritional value, leading to a shift in food-sourcing regions within Uganda. Experts warn that if this trend persists, it could ultimately result in the total extinction of certain crops.

Current data reveals that Uganda utilizes an average of 1.8 to 3 kilograms of fertilizer per acre, significantly below the recommended average. The recent introduction of a new bio-fertilizer, engineered with technology from Denmark, highlights the need for substantial fertilization in a country heavily reliant on agriculture.

Professor Julius Zaake, Uganda’s first soil professor, emphasizes that the soil is overworked and requires revitalization, a task currently lacking attention.

“Most of our areas have what we call negative nutrient balance, meaning that what is gotten out if the soil is much more than what is put in, and what is amazing presently, is that where we are getting food these days which is the western region, it is the area with the greatest negative nutrient balance, so image what we are going to face in a few years, and we should not be alarmed as country because it is coming,” he explained.

Alex Otuti, the senior agricultural inspector in charge of Agro Chemicals in the Ministry of Agriculture, highlights that some parts of Uganda are so degraded to the level of needing to use the undesired synthetic fertilizer as the only option to jump-start it to the required conditions.

“Because of our challenging soil conditions now, for us to reach where we want, we have to jump-start the system, bring in synthetic fertilizer as we build on the organic matter level of the soil, to the limit that will allow us to move organically what is the most desired,” he emphasized.

Large-scale plantations, such as tea and sugar estates, are the primary users of fertilizers in Uganda, as highlighted by Otuti. However, the national average is significantly affected by the minimal use of fertilizers by small-scale farmers.

This disparity contributes to the concerning overall levels of fertilizer adoption in the country. Additionally, there is a notable organic nutrient imbalance within Uganda, further exacerbating the agricultural challenges.

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Abdul Karim Dedya, the Country Director of Biofertilizer Africa Uganda Limited and Rootzone Africa, reveals that the newly developed fertilizer, “Transform,” required three years of research. It marks the introduction of root zone technology in the Ugandan market and is proudly locally manufactured.

Dedya emphasizes that “Transform” goes beyond being a conventional fertilizer; it is a formula designed to enhance both soil and plant health, distinguishing it from existing products in the market.

This innovation aims to address the limitations of current fertilizers and contribute to a more sustainable and effective approach to soil and plant care in Uganda.