One of my key tasks on a major agricultural based program implemented in Eastern Uganda between 2005 and 2008 was to ensure that soil samples are taken and safely transported from the farms of beneficiary farmers as far as the districts of Manafwa, Mbale, Tororo and Iganga to Kampala in particular Kawanda Agricultural Research Station for analyses! This was long before Makerere University (Soil Science Department) began to popularize the mobile soil testing kits. Under the program, several poor farmers were facilitated to test soil samples from their farms in order to determine gaps in soil fertility levels and best crops suited to the areas.
It was during such noble Missions that one Soil Expert revealed to me that the stretch of the area along the banks of River Nile (the longest river in the world) particularly in Budondo and Mafubira sub-counties is not only a treasure to Busoga region but the whole of Uganda. This area (call it the ‘Promised Land’) is characterized by some of the best heavy loamy and fertile soils in the world dubbed as Nakabango Catena. They are generally rich in nutrients and usually between 0.15 m and 1.0 m deep.
According to a recent environmental impact assessment report submitted to the World Bank , ‘The general relief, climate and vegetation are very similar to that of the Mabira catena with which the Nakabango Series forms a complex at some points. The parent material of the pediment soils is derived from weathering products of basic rocks, amphibolite schists and dolerites which on weathering give rise to bright red or reddish brown clays’. The Nakabango soils are characteristically and exceptionally fertile and do support a wide range of agricultural crops.
No wonder, this area is a major source of most of foodstuffs especially fresh and organic vegetables and fruits supplied to most of the neighboring small urban centres and towns ranging from Bugembe, Kakira, Iganga, Njeru(Mbiko), Mukono and Kampala city. The most productive coffee farms and Madhivani sugar estates are also situated on these soils.
Budondo sub-county in particular is not only a birth place of the legendary and defunct ‘Busoga Growers Cooperative Union’ but it is also a home to the well-known Bujagali waterfalls that subsided as a negative consequence of the recent construction of Bujagali power supply dam.
With such natural endowments, huge productive potential and opportunities, a stranger would literally expect the area residents to be relatively well-off. On the contrary, majority of the smallholder farmers are greatly immersed in unimaginable biting poverty. The narrow, dusty and potholed condition of the Jinja-Bujagali road suggests that this area has long been cut-off from Government support services.
Most agricultural activities in the area are still rainfed. Different from their Egyptian counterparts, smallholder farmers in Jinja cannot make use of the many surrounding water bodies to irrigate their farms as Government (duty bearer) cannot afford them simple drip-line, underground and roof rain-water harvesting and irrigation technologies. These services are far-off from their dreams!
Furthermore, the continued poor quality agricultural extension and financial support services and complete lack of access to cold storage, agro-processing and value addition facilities have exacerbated their pathetic condition. As such farmers experience high post harvest and handling losses of agricultural output and cannot be cushioned against forced sales after harvest during periods of glut. Since young energetic farmers have resigned from putting this land gifted by nature to effective use, it is gradually but forcibly being grabbed by foreign white settlers and local venture capitalists.
Like most of the senior district civil servants unfortunately, the political leaders who are largely NRM party flag bearers including area Members of Parliament and Councilors prefer to comfortably stay either in Jinja town or Kampala city-far-off from their wretched voters.
Matthias Ngobi Miti
Butembe County, Jinja District