Research is much needed for the development of organic agriculture

Dr. Joseph Ssemakula, principal investigator for ACALISE at the exhibition booth

The transdisciplinary field of agroecology provides a platform for experiential learning based on an expanded vision of research on sustainable farming and food systems.

Richard Coe, a research methods specialist at World Agroforestry (ICRAF) while speaking at the 1st Eastern Africa Agroecology Conference (EAAC) in Nairobi-Kenya fully acknowledged that agroecology depends on research.

With increased recognition of limitations of fossil fuels, fresh water, and available farmland, educators from Uganda Martyrs University have pioneered agroecology education through research and are changing focus from strategies to reach maximum yields to those that feature resource use efficiency and resilience of production systems in these changing climate times.

Dr. Simon Peter Musinguzi an agroecologist and the dean of the faculty of agriculture Uganda Martyrs said that this particular University is a leader in agroecological solutions related to climate change and livelihood systems and has trained top-notch agroecologists on the African continent and beyond through its top-rated programmes in organic agriculture and agroecology. ‘‘Uganda Martyrs University itself is agroecology,’’ he said.

Therefore, Uganda hosts the African Centre of Excellence in Agroecology and Livelihood Systems (ACALISE) at the university being funded by the World Bank through the Government of Uganda.

It aims at streamlining the production of a high-level, well-motivated, and ethically conscious critical mass of agroecology and livelihood systems experts through collaborative quality postgraduate education as well as applied research that will contribute to sustainable livelihood and food systems transformation.

The Minister of State for Agriculture, Uganda, Hon. Fred Bwino Kyakulaga, who also addressed the participants added his voice to say that several scholars within the African region have benefited from the postgraduate Master’s degrees, PhD education, and resource programs, including staff within his ministry under ACALISE.

Speaking to Dr. Joseph Ssemakula, principal investigator for ACALISE his team at the conference said that their research is farmer-centered.

‘‘Our research at Uganda Martyrs is farmer centered, all our fertilizers have been done together with farmers. Like black soldier fly, which contributes to animal feed, it is an innovation we came up with as the first people though right now so many people are doing it but we studied the evolution and the ecology of this fly. Through our research, we managed to visualize that silverfish and soya beans are very expensive and are being competed for by human beings and animals the black soldier fly was on our planet, it is a substitute for silverfish, soya beans, and animal feed,’’ he said.

‘‘We have an insectarium at the university where students and farmers do research, an entomology laboratory where we know the percentage of zinc, phosphorus, and protein that is in the black soldier fly that is going to replace the protein being provided for by the soya beans and silverfish. When we do research we break the frontiers of knowledge.’’

However, the development of organic agriculture stems from the demand for safe and environmentally friendly food, which arose from outcome mistakes made by the Green Revolution that failed to achieve sustainable food security.

‘‘This way we are saving the environment because to plant soya beans you have to dig, cut trees, and you need land. For the silverfish from Lake Victoria is one big water body that we are competing for with Tanzania and Kenya and fish now is a very scarce and expensive resource so this will be left for children,’’ Ssemakula added. This is one of the innovations that is so critical and prime to food security because silverfish will be left for human consumption.

What happens is organic agriculture, agroecology, and regenerative agriculture as a phenomenon to be appreciated is reactively new. It is competing with conventional agriculture. Organic in a simple way uses nature to provide solutions, coming from a concept of food not being perishable but being transformed, say if it is leftovers that human beings cannot eat but can contribute to soil health.

‘‘The production of organic inputs is where our research mainly falls. For conventional agriculture, laboratory work has been done and it has been there for a long time so you know which percentage of nitrogen, and potassium is in which particular area, but when you ask farmers about percentages, they don’t know them and yet this the actual fertility and that is the science.’’

Ssemakula also said that their PhDs are contributing to the formulation of these biopesticides. To determine the nitrogen here you have to go to the laboratory since a farmer can’t go and to be able to use it, you must have studied.

Organic fertilizer samples at the ACALISE booth

He also said that they have coffee grounds, a fertilizer that was researched by their master’s student, Joyce Nababi, and it is from coffee that has been put to waste. ‘‘when you go to a coffee shop, they make brewed coffee and the rest is thrown away. For the first time collected by this student and studied to show the presence of all the minerals that are in here and it is very scientific, this is what then farmers need to know, there must be a PhD to interpret this in a local language,’’. This now contributes to the cleanness of the city because it will be thrown away as rubbish and garbage collection in cities is very expensive, so this is transformed into fertilizer.

A platform where farmers share, and interact have them view the way forward to sustainable agricultural development, lasting food security, and better health to be in adopting Organic Agriculture.

According to him the contribution to organic agriculture needs the presence of the academia. “Otherwise, if our organic fertilizers are going to be licensed, the ministry is going to ask for a microbiology report, asking what is the active ingredient in there, when the government doesn’t know what our farmers are consuming, it can’t be accepted on to the market.”

“It is important that we have PhDs because this work is done by research because even if you are an organic farmer the ministry needs to know what is in the biopesticide that can kill fungus and bacteria. That can only be determined in a laboratory.”

‘‘We need our masters and PhD students, everything from the key facts, objectives, methodology, and the results can be explained in one page because a farmer cannot simply explain science. You need a combination of both because the farmer will tell you the problem, take the sample to the lab, then see the presence of the nutrients, and then advise because the farmer could fail to use the organic manure with different components, cow dung doesn’t have the same components like chicken droppings. After all, they come from a different cycle,’’ Ssemakula also said.

So the development is the combination of the farmers, civil society organizations, and information from academia. “Everything that works on earth for a long time has been ratified by the academia whether it is the law of motion, like what we saw when we had covid, no one knew about it, it is big universities like Johns Hopkins University that managed to do a case identification because they are the one into research, so we bring in research which is very much needed for organic agriculture and even determine the ratios.’’

The result is that Organic Agriculture support systems, such as research, extension, and education, as well as related policies are lacking. Uganda in particular has a favorable environment for the growth of Organic Agriculture, which already exists among the many smallholder farmers who dominate the Ugandan Agricultural sector.

As such the limited Organic Agriculture development in Uganda now requires immediate refocusing of research priorities, extension of environment-friendly technologies, offering of Organic Agriculture as part of training curricula at all educational levels, and above all putting in place an Organic Agriculture Policy.


This story is with immense support from ESAFF Uganda through the Agroecology School for   Journalists and Communicators.


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