Most people who know about Uganda and its natural resources have the impression that the country is blessed with fertile soils. Yet this is contrary to what soil scientists have found.
A study done by National Agricultural Research Laboratories (NARL) Kawanda shows that Uganda faces severe soil nutrient depletion. This is because many farmers keep tilling the land over and over again without applying practices that maintain soil fertility.

Calculate the amount
Therefore, it is recommended that small holder farmers should maximise fertiliser use alongside organic manure to improve soil nutrients. 
The most important ingredients required to increase soil fertility are Nitrogen, Potassium and Phosphorous (NPK). Other secondary components include calcium, magnesium, sulphur, copper, iron, manganese and zinc. 
The scientists have come up with Uganda Fertiliser Optimisation Tool (FOT). It is computer-based tool used to calculate the required amount of fertiliser as per the monetary fund allocated for a specific agricultural activity per unit hectare. It also indicates what a farmer will earn from the output invested.
NARL is working on this project with University of Nebraska. In US, the FOT has been applied by farmers and has worked well.

The profit
Dr Cranmer Kayuki Kaizi from NARL, explains that what is considers the land area the farmer wishes to plant for a particular crop and expected commodity value at harvest, the cost of fertiliser and the finance available to the farmer for purchase of fertiliser.
The profitability varies greatly depending on which nutrient is applied to which crop and at what rate. 
FOT was developed for crops such as sorghum, beans, rice, groundnuts and maize. Currently, the team is in the process of developing this tool to cover other crops.
It is availed to extension workers who show farmers on how to calculate the fertiliser rate for a particular crop and estimate average yield and net returns.
The target is extension workers in various African countries: namely, there are Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Mozambique, Zambia, Malawi, Ethiopia, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Nigeria and Niger.

Guide farmers
Calculations are made with MS Excel, and a farmer will be able to know that if he or she applies 50kg of urea on one hectare, the yield will amount to 44kg of maize grain per hectare.
For the case of rice, if fertiliser is purchased amounts to $60 (Shs204,900) to the hectare, the farmer will be in position to reap $700 (Shs2,390,500) per hectare. Therefore, the tool enables farmers to apply fertiliser depending on the economic return.
The tool also helps guide the farmers on which crops to invest in and the fertilizer usage. In Uganda, it has been tried in Kapchorwa, Aleptong, Arua, Tororo, Sironko, Apac districts and it is to be introduced in Kisoro, Kabale and Ntungamo districts.
The implementing partners, CABI and NARL have trained Community Knowledge Based (CKB) trainers in Kapchorwa and Mbale district, where the software is loaded on mobile phones.

Increased yields
Sam Satya, the coordinator, explains that using FOT has advantages such as farmers with little cash at hand being in position to buy fertiliser at whatever quantity in a bid to get good yield. 
Farmers who growing other crops not covered by FOT are at a disadvantage because they are not able to make use of it.
So far, about 300 farmers in Mbale and Kapchorwa have adapted the FOT technology and they have realised increased yields.
Farmers have learnt which quantity of fertiliser to purchase for an acre of land because previously they were applying 50 kg of either urea or diammonium phosphate (DAP) on one acre. Yet, by applying FOT, a farmer can use 30 kg of urea and 12 kg of DAP for one acre and still reap better yields.

A farmer who used 50kg of urea would harvest eight bags of maize but now by using less quantity of urea, he or she can harvest 20 bags of maize. This means application of the tool is useful.
Farmers are advised to measure the fertiliser and mix it with soil per hole, and by the time it spread across the field and it rains, the fertiliser would have been absorbed.

Managing soil fertility

In case of farmers lack money to purchase fertiliser mainly urea and diammonium phosphate (DAP), they may grow legume crops, which fix nitrogen in the soil.
Cover crops such as Macuna, Chlotolaria and soya bean are key nitrogen-fixing crops that farmers are encouraged to grow during fallowing of their fields.
It is also advisable for farmers to embrace use of inorganic fertiliser like urea because 100kg of urea contains 46% nitrogen compared to 100kg of organic manure, which contains 1% nitrogen.
However, planting of legume crops is a good practice farmers that can apply in managing soil fertility.

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About the National Agricultural Research Laboratories (NARL)

  • Welcome message from the Director
  • Research Programmes:
  • Core Values of NARL

Background:

Formerly a rubber estate, the institute was acquired in 1934 from K. Borup, a Danish farmer. It became the headquarters of research division of the Department of Agriculture in 1937 with a mandate to conduct research on coffee, tea, cotton and native food crops. The 630 hectare station located13km north of Kampala became the hub for scientific investigations for African agriculture to make it more productive and economically viable.

The institute has undergone several transformations both in naming and core research mandates and activities over the years. Currently, it is one of the six National Agricultural Research Institutes (NARIs established by the NAR Act 2005) under the dispensation of the National Agricultural Research organization.

Our Mandate

Conducting research and providing services on soils, agro-meteorology and Environment; bananas; biosystems and agricultural engineering; food science and agribusiness; and biodiversity and biotechnology

Our Goal:  Agricultural productivity and household incomes increased through use of improved technologies and practices

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  Research Programmes:

Implementation of activities is organized in five research programmes and an information and documentation unit supported by an administration unit:

  • Soils, Agro-meteorology and Environment Research Programme,
  • Banana Research Programme,
  • Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering Research Programme,
  • Food Biosciences and Agribusiness Research Programme,
  • Biodiversity and Biotechnology Programmes.

Hosted institutions:

  • International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA)
  •   International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT)
  •   Korean Project on International Agriculture (KOPIA)
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Core Values of NARL:

  • Excellence
  • Accountability
  • Market responsiveness
  • Client oriented
  • Demand driven
  • Sustainability
  • Integrity
  • Gender sensitivity
  • Transparency
  • Environment consciousness

Institute expected outputs

NARL’s activities are premised on the following outputs:

  • Tools, recommendations and technologies for improved soil and water management, sustainable land use and resilience to climate change
  • Improved banana varieties and other technologies for enhancing banana productivity and utilization
  • Technologies and practices that enhance conservation and utilization of genetic resources
  • Processes, systems and products that enhance market value of agricultural commodities
  • Biosystems and agricultural engineering products that improve agricultural production efficiency
  • Impact at specified sites created through multi-stakeholder innovation platforms
  • Information systems that support agricultural research and development
  • World class infrastructure and management systems that strengthen generation and promotion of outputs
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Vision

To be a centre of excellence generating and promoting appropriate agricultural technologies

Mission

To generate and promote agricultural technologies and improve productivity, value addition, income and food security

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