Striking a balance between knowledge and experience in agriculture

I visited a farm of a prominent figure and observed the good and bad side of practicing farming with little theory. For purposes of respecting his privacy, I will not mention his name. We have met a few times. And from my first encounter with him, I observed that he takes up an opportunity the moment it avails itself. He’s learned, but not in agriculture. Though he loves agriculture with a passion. He would make anyone fall in love with agriculture on the first meet, partly because of what he has reaped from it. Just like me, he believes agriculture is the way to rid communities of poverty. Our only differences lie with how we approach agriculture. His approach is extensive while mine is intensive.

When I arrived at his home, I was welcomed with a cool breezes after a sun scotched ride on a boda boda (motorcycle) for at least seven kilometers on a dusty road. He planted trees along the boundaries of his home giving it the ambiance of a botanical garden. As we rode up to his house, I noticed the fruit trees planted along the path that leads to house. We were welcomed with silence and the compound littered with garden tools and materials used in the farm. The boda boda dropped me off and left. I knocked at the door to no response. I decided to call him and he instructed me to tour his coffee plantation. A few minutes later I met his son who happens to be the farm manager.

It had just rained one or two days before and the soil was still dump, muddy and slippery. The garden had coffee, bananas, pumpkins and trees intercropped. Beams of sun rays were penetrating through the tree canopies to ground. The air in the plantation was humid and warm. I noticed that he was weeding. As we walked through the plantation, we interacted. We both observed that agroforestry was good, but it had its demerits. There seemed to be an urgency of utilizing every available space disregarding proper crop spacing, which had affected the growth of the coffee plants. I also observed that the coffee and banana plants had grown very tall as a result of searching light (phototropism).

Agro-forestry is a very good practice especially on relatively small piece of land where land is scarce. In this case study, the farmer has a lot of land, but opts to use agro-forestry on all his land. The approach would still be good and productive if the crops are not overcrowded. I kept wondering why he had chosen this approach over a monocrop system or single stand and came up with the following reasons. First agroforestry, conserves the environmental through covering the soil throughout the year. This prevents soil erosion and exposure to the sun during dry spells hence retaining soil moisture. Second the agroforestry is less costly as it does not require a lot of inorganic fertilize and labor. The tree canopies reduce the light reaching the ground prevent under growth like weeds.

Economically, agroforestry is not as profitable as farmers think with regard to the potential productivity of the land it occupies. It is also very hard for one to determine how much they actually generate from the farm, if they were to consider all costs involved. Another key observation that should not be overseen is that different crop under agroforestry form different farm entities. It is therefore important to assess how much each entity generates in terms of income. But it addresses the environmental concerns and for this reason, agroforestry is widely used in developing country and more so on relatively small pieces of land in backyards.

Can agroforestry address the food security problems the world faces today?

The World Bank estimates that at least 1 billion people go to bed hungry on a daily basis according to Deininger et al 2011. These numbers are alarming and it calls for increased production and productivity. There is great pressure on developing countries to increase production because they are the most affected. In the case of Uganda, 80% of the population are employed by agriculture. At least 73% of those employed by agriculture are small scale farmers and practice subsistence farming – largely agroforestry in their backyards. They eat most of the food and sell the surplus for a little pay.

This does not mean that agroforestry is bad and should not be practiced. It can actually increase food security. Farmers have to apply both experience and knowledge that is researched and proven. If one should cultivate, the rules should be follow to avoid regrets or removing crops or infrastructure to create room for something else. In the earlier case, the farmer has started cutting down trees and tree branches to increase light penetration. This could have been avoided if he had first planted the trees at least 25 square meters apart, then the two rows of bananas at 16 square meters apart between tree rows, then two rows of coffee at 4 square meters apart in between banana rows, and finally the remaining gaps can be filled with annual vegetables. To improve soil fertility, the farmer should plant legumes to fix nitrogen in the soil. The approach is the same, but orderly and more spaced. Proper orientation of plants in space with regard to the available natural resources such as soil water, soil nutrients and light is very vital to the plants’ performance. Furthermore, well organized agroforestry allows the farmer to account for each crop as a separate entity.

The appreciation of experience and knowledge is very import in farming, the two aspects complement each other. Farmers that have both benefit greatly through optimizing costs and maximizing profits. The knowledge enable them to do the right thing at the right time while the experience prevents them from repeating mistakes. I therefore urge anyone venturing into farming to have both, though it takes long to gain experience. In cases where farmers lack experience and knowledge, they should consult other experienced farmers and experts.

Related Articles


David Lutalo’s Nalongo Concert Sells Out

The Ugandan music sensation, David Lutalo, set Lugogo Cricket Oval ablaze as...


Hamis Kiggundu Speaksout On Rumors Of Bringing Burna Boy To Kampala

Renowned businessman Hamis Kiggundu has dispelled reports making rounds suggesting that he...


South African Mafikizolo Confirmed For Another Music Show In Kampala

South African singing duo Mafikizolo will perform at the One Nation Festival,...


Entertainment Guru Kasuku Quits Spark TV For A Juicier Deal At NBS

On our news desk, we have received reports that the immensely popular...