Caritas MADDO, one of the organizations in the above fight, has engaged farmers in integrated sustainable agriculture whereby farmers on small plots of land can optimally utilize them and produce for better incomes while at the same time controlling environmental degradation. Caritas MADDO has for some time promoted a sustainable intensification and commercialization of smallholder farm production by facilitating improved agriculture practices through training of trainers, group training, and with close follow up. Improved inputs (for example pest and drought resistant / fast maturing crop varieties; improved animal breeds) are provided to farmer groups. Farmers receive them on a loan basis from the group, thus creating a basis for a revolving input scheme, directly managed by farmer groups.
The Sustainable Agricultural practices promoted by Caritas MADDO
Sustainable agriculture follows the definition of sustainable development, i.e., meeting fundamental human needs while preserving the life-support systems of the planet. This is a concept that is easy to discuss but hard to implement because it requires a holistic approach within which science and technology are integrated with the social and political aspects of society, as well as with local and national economic development.
According to Kates et al., (2001), sustainable agriculture which is a goal rather than a distinct set of practices, is a system of food and fiber production that; improves the underlying productivity of natural resources and cropping systems so that farmers can meet increasing levels of demand in concert with population and economic growth; produces food that is safe, wholesome, and nutritious and that promotes human well-being; ensures an adequate net farm income to support an acceptable standard of living for farmers while also underwriting the annual investments needed to improve progressively the productivity of soil, water, and other resources; and complies with community norms and meets social expectations.
Sustainable agriculture is a practice of various techniques and principles ranging from IPM (Integrated Pest Management) to permaculture, to agro-ecological systems. The key issue in sustainable agriculture is that there is no single approach that can be applied all over the world in a uniform manner; different techniques and systems are applied, and adapted, in different ecological and socio-cultural systems.
Caritas MADDO promotes organic farming practices like use of natural fertilizers and pesticides. Farmers are provided with skills in compost and liquid manure making which has also promoted their health to produce more. However according to the FAO (1994) Mineral fertilizers are very important since they play an important role in intensive agriculture. Fertilizers and soil additives from both mineral and organic sources, must be applied periodically to land to maintain or build up productive capacity. To maximize environmental and economic gains however, these inputs must be viewed as a supplementary means of improving fertility within a farming system.
In order to improve food security, Caritas MADDO continues to promote high yielding, resistant and rich in soil nutrients crop breeds. In the year 2010, the department of agriculture was able to provide 175 bags of cassava cuttings, Sweet potato vines, 12,500 banana suckers, 272 tins of vegetables to farmer groups organized so that they have the capacity to undertake their development priorities. More 467 groups were formed and 178 registered after getting knowledge of group dynamics. Caritas MADDO boosts farmers through the promotion of sustainable agriculture concepts as well as support in goods and services and promotion of farmers’ institutional development.
Farmer groups in the Diocese have benefited through from the programme handouts in animal and plant varieties of good quality. Such varieties include; Animals like Goats, Pigs, Chicken, Cows, crop varieties like; Cassava, Potatoes, Coffee, Banana, Fruit tree seedlings and tree seedling. In addition, coffee seedlings, multipurpose tree seedlings were also supplied to farmers. These varieties are fast growing to meet market demands and also generate an income for the households. An integration of livestock and other crops has been of great importance to the farmers since there is manure for enhancing the soils.
Adoption of sustainable agricultural practices by farmers in Masaka Diocese
Caritas MADDO ensures that all farmer groups (100%) receive training in sustainable agriculture concept. This has helped them to adopt and practice livestock management, soil and water conservation, integrated pest management. Caritas MADDO has carried out periodic monitoring of the activities and the practices have been satisfactorily adopted. In addition to monitoring, the coordinators have carried out the demonstration to the rest of the farmers in a professional way.
Caritas MADDO has realised that most of the products that farmers produce need some value addition so that households can earn more than they are getting. Emphasis has also been put on perishable products like fruits. Farmers are taught how to make wine, concentrated juice, chili and tomato source from a variety of fruits. They are also taught how to package their products. Caritas MADDO can boast of 21 groups doing this work satisfactory. All the groups are supported with farm inputs among which are tree seedling (assorted), fruit trees seedlings, pigs, goats, bags cassava cut, banana suckers. Coronal coffee seedlings, elite coffee seedlings, tree seeds for nursery establishment and multipurpose tree seedlings. Some parishes were assisted with crop and animal breads to establish multiplication centres.
All in all, the adoption of sustainable practices by farmers is the key to transforming American agriculture into a long-term, sustainable system. As Roberts (1995:44) articulates, “How far sustainability can be achieved in a democracy depends greatly on landholders’ voluntary acceptance of sound land use practices.” Individual decisions are shaped by the availability of technical information and the appropriate machinery, seeds, and other inputs necessary to implement sustainable approaches.
How sustainable agricultural practices has affected farmers’ livelihoods
Farmers are also implementing the culture of saving and are making use of the banking facilities in the localities. Caritas MADDO provided some cash crops like 32,000 coffee seedlings which are planted by farmers to boost their income now and in future. There are several financial institutions in Masaka and other areas which have been very helpful to the farmers in accessing credit. Centenary Rural Development Bank and MED-Net are some of the micro finance institutions that are working within Masaka providing financial support to the farmers.
Challenges met in imparting and adopting sustainable agricultural practices
Poor quality of soils due to soil erosion; available data clearly show that soil loss varies widely and is influenced by, among other things, the method used in clearing and opening land, and by the cropping system. Where there is repeated use of the same land, the restorative fallows are eliminated. In many instances, soil erosion rates have been accelerated by machinery for land clearing and post clearing land management leading to soil compaction and erosion. NEMA (2000) gave factors responsible for soil erosion in Masaka which included; slope, population pressure, overgrazing, vulnerable soils and poor farming methods. The report estimated that 50% of the land in Masaka is affected by soil erosion.
The inefficient agricultural marketing systems have also caused serious problems for sustainable agriculture. Farmers are never certain of the market conditions thus can switch from one crop to another at any time. For example, farmers in Masaka and elsewhere cut their banana and coffee down for Vanilla which was short lived thus perpetuating efforts to conduct sustainable agriculture (NEMA 1994).
Draught is one of the challenges faced by Caritas MADDO executing their duties. There are sometimes prolonged draughts that hit the entire Diocese. Farmer loose most of their food source; mother gardens are equally destroyed and there is ever a need to establish new gardens. Such droughts cause poor performance of most commercial crops like coffee. Farmer income source are shuttered, coffee was severally affected to the extent of drying up.
Inflation is another problem faced by Caritas MADDO in imparting sustainable agricultural practices. Inflation affects almost every aspect of life starting from access to basic necessities to affordability of other day to day goods and services. Inflation affected donor funding of various programmes since the donors were also affected by the credit crunch.
In summary, available studies suggest that sustainable agriculture systems may be just as profitable as, if not more profitable than, their conventional counterparts on a per-animal and per-acre basis.