Environment, Agriculture and Forestry Research and Development Center (EAFRDC)

The Faculty of Environment and Agricultural sciences connects the university to the community through Research, Innovations and Community Outreach. In this regard, the Environment and Agricultural Research and Development Center (EARDC) was initiated to develop capacity of stakeholders to adopt innovations in environmental management, agriculture and forestry. The innovations are aimed at addressing issues and challenges created by the growing population and the consequent demand for food, water and energy.

The challenges take the following forms;

1) Traditional farming methods require big tracks of arable land. This leads to reclamation of forests and wetlands.
2)Depletion of soil nutrients, induce farmers to use chemical fertilizers; also chemical biocides are used by farmers to boost agricultural productivity. These activities distort the ecosystem;
3) Reliance on firewood and charcoal by over 90% of the population culminates in the destruction of forests.
EARDC was thus initiated to develop innovations in environmental management, agriculture and forestry to increase the resilience of communities towards various forms of vulnerabilities.

Flitering wastewater at the University

Flitering wastewater at the University

Issues and challenges of Soil nutrient deficiency

Despite the high rates of soil nutrient depletion in Uganda (Henao & Baanante, 2006), about 60% of the animal manure generated in the city is lost and only 32% is used as fertiliser on crop fields. On average 1,800mg of nitrogen, 260mg of phosphorus and 1,900mg of potassium are wasted away in landfills annually in Kampala. Smallholder farmers in urban areas do not make use of this abundant manure (Zake et al.,2010). Large quantities of manure (bio-waste) are collected in KCCA skips and eventually deposed off in the city landfill. This is probably due to ignorance of farmers about prospects of bio-waste as soil conditioners (NetWas, 2011; Diener et al., 2013).
Over 75% of the generated waste is organic, constituting 62% agricultural waste from peels (banana, potatoes and cassava), 22% food waste, 9% market waste and 11% crop residues. This resource could be utilized to reduce dependence on artificial chemical fertilizers for the intensive urban farming. The decrease of the world’s remaining sources of mineral phosphorus justifies nutrient recycling (Berg et al. 2005) particularly in Uganda where $899 million is lost annually due to effects of malnutrition. On the whole, the use of fertilizers in Uganda (regardless of the type) is quite low, at 3% (NETWAS, 2011). This represents one of the lowest usages in Africa (ACODE, 2006). Participatory development of simple and cheap technologies and procedures is needed to utilize manure and waste in a sustainable manner.
Production of organic fertilizers and biocides is significant in Uganda where agricultural output is 24.6% of the GNP and where 80% households are engaged in agriculture (UBOS, 2015). Currently, small scale farmers (who are about 80% of Ugandan farmers) cannot afford to use industrial fertilizers.

Post-harvest Losses

The wide range of agro-ecological conditions of Uganda supports a diversity of crops including fruits and vegetables. Harnessing this resource creates a potential for self-sustenance in food, nutrition and economical sustainability. Unfortunately, statistics place post-harvest losses between 30% and 80% in low developed countries (Kitinoja et al., 2010). According to the authors, post-harvest has received less attention in the developing countries, yet preventing loss of already produced food is more sustainable than increasing production to compensate for the losses.
Agro-processing as a remedy to prevent losses is hampered by low level of technologies and unreliable electricity. Cooling is one of the preservation methods for vegetables (Tian et al., 2016). For this purpose, charcoal and evapo-cooling chambers provide cheap alternatives to grid power operated chillers. These cheap alternatives have been run as undergraduate student projects and ready to be up-scaled for commercialization to benefit the rural areas. Another intervention is the use of shed screens by market vendors.
The sheds can reduce evapotranspiration resulting in prolonged shelf life, as well as retaining the appearance and nutrition content of fresh agricultural produce in the markets. These preservative techniques are considered cheap and therefore readily adoptable by the farmers and traders, the majority whom are women.

Climate Change and Agriculture: Dependency of Farming on Natural Seasons

In Uganda, agriculture contributes 24.6% of the national gross domestic product (GDP), is a livelihood of over 72% of the economically active population and a source of most of the raw materials of the agro-based industries (UBOS, 2015). However, agricultural production system of Uganda is largely rain-fed, predisposing it to climate change and erratic rains. Inadequate rain limits the full exploitation of the estimated 80% arable land mass (UBOS, 2012). In contrast, however, national statistics estimates less than 1% of agricultural households to be practicing irrigation (UBOS, 2010), while the area equipped for irrigation is less than 3% of the total potential irrigable 567,000 ha (Ministry of Water and Environment, 2011).
About 70% of the country receives a bimodal rainfall with the peak periods in April to May and October to November (NEMA, 2009). Recently, the rain has become erratic and therefore can be promoted through household-level rainwater harvesting, construction of valley tanks, dams, and farm ponds can provide the required water sources. But long distances from water source are one of the factors that limit adopting of irrigation technology in Uganda (Wanyama et al., 2017). Therefore, mechanization of water delivery from the source is one way of eliminating drudgery and promote uptake of irrigation technology. Solar powered pumps, though with a higher initial cost, in the long run present irrigation systems with low maintenance costs and they are environmentally clean. These become very handy in the rural areas where 82% of the farming community live (UBOS, 2014) yet engine fuel is not readily available, expensive and in most cases adulterated.
Out of the rural community 67% of them practice mixed farming (UBOS, 2014). This implies that there is animal waste to run biogas production. The biogas by-products can later be used as fertilizers in the gardens. Bio-fertilizers and biofuels provides a sustainable and eco-friendly renewable energy and agro-production system. Upscaling agricultural production comes with increased farm byproducts. When put to proper usage, farm waste such as maize cobs and other high carbon materials can be a source of raw material for briquettes making. Such activities can diversify the farm income, provide safe fuel and save the forests.

Outdated Farming Technologies

The estimated population of 38 million and population growth of 3% (UBOS, 2014) indisputably impact on the fixed arable land. Sharing this land invariably results in land fragmentation, leaving less land for conventional agricultural production. Over cultivation of the available land coupled with the low soil amendments impacts on the agricultural productivity. Reclamation of forest areas and wetlands for crop and animal farming could be avoided through innovative farming such as vertical farming, micro gardens, hydroponic gardening and aqua-hydroponics.
Productivity from the limited space can be boosted by environmentally friendly technologies such as vermiculture and indigenous micro-organisms (IMO) as form of fertilizers and biocides (Gupta et al., 2014). Sustainability of intensive production has a potential to provide the ever increasing urban population with fresh foods, nutrient supplements, complementally income while adapting to climate change.

Plant Diversity Conservation

Plant diversity contributes towards achieving food security, poverty alleviation, environmental protection and sustainable development (Upadhyaya and Gowda, 2009). Diversity is eroded by replacement of traditional landraces by modern, high yielding cultivars, pressure to natural catastrophes (droughts, floods, fire hazards, etc), as well as human destruction and modification of natural habitats of the plant species. Uganda climate supports a variety of plant species known for their food, nutrition, medicinal as well as other biomass usages but are at the edge of disappearance.
Ex-situ conservation in the field is the cheapest means though faced with natural vagaries. In this line, a number of food, medicinal and potential biofuels plants will be collected and maintained at the university botanical garden as a source of planting materials for commercial production. Trees such as acacia as known to be a fast growing hard wood plant with high quality charcoal production will be established on a large scale.

Creating a Critical Mass

Lack of technical capacity has been identified as one of the factors failing adaption of technologies (Wanyama et al., 2017). Among the strategies is to integrate the technologies in the taught courses (Kitinoja et al., 2011).
This can act as a basis for innovation. Conducting outreach prorgams provides students with practical experience to validate and appreciate the technologies. After graduation, the students become change agents to propagate the technologies, provide technical backstopping as well as becoming entrepreneurs of the same technologies. Training and service centers can be potential research and outreach avenues for demonstration, testing adaptability of the technologies, as well as training and consultation venues (Kitinoja et al., 2011).

Gender Equity

Successful uptake of technologies is promoted by the ability to recognize the gender roles and constraints (Kitinoja, 2013). Therefore promoting, up-scaling and commercialization of the proven technologies must be appealing, convenient and accessible to the women and youth and should be affordable and consider the social and economic gender perspective. A cost-befit analysis is an incentive to the potential clientele. The accompanying technical information should also be appropriately packaged for the target groups.

Inter-disciplinary Synergies

Interdisciplinary collaboration among faculties, professionals and specialization can act as a synergy for effective research and extension programs (Kitinoja, 2011). Faculties have constituted research and development centres as a way to ease coordination and enhance this synergy.

Matrix of Challenges and Innovative Approaches for Addressing the Synergies

Aspect of Green Innovation Vulnerabilities being addressed
Smart Agriculture & urban farming Limited space for farming; reclamation of forests & wetlands
Variety of tree species planted Deforestation; distortion of eco-system
Production of organic fertilizers, biocides and disinfectants a. Land & water Pollution;
b. Eco-system distortion;
c. health complications;
d. soil nutrient deficiency
1. large-scale animal feeds production
2. Fish farming
a. Food insecurity, poor nutrition;
b. poverty;
c. Optimization of degraded wetlands/swamps;
d. food waste
Commercial-scale production of renewable energy; briquettes, biogas and solar 1. Over-dependency on charcoal/firewood for domestic & institutional cooking/heating; deforestation/endangered species.
2. Reduction of pollution and Improvement of sanitation via bio-waste recycling
3. Unemployment, poverty
Variety of tree species planted Deforestation; distortion of eco-system
1. Biogas-powered chilling devices for crops/food
2. solar-powered agro-processing units
a. Post-harvest losses;
b. optimization of farm outputs;
c. unemployment/poverty
1. Rainwater harvesting
2. Solar-powered water pumping for domestic use and irrigated farming
a. Climate change variability;
b. dependency of farming on seasons;
c. inaccessibility to safe drinking water
Affordable water testing and water purification approaches & kits Water pollution and contamination mainly in high density areas
Business models and Entrepreneurial frameworks Small-scale/subsistence productions; inadequate adoption of innovations; poverty & unemployment; lack of incentives for multi-stakeholder engagement in green innovations
Financing frameworks Lack of start-up and scale-up capital
Information, Education & communication (IEC) initiatives a. Inadequate conceptualization of communities vulnerability;
b. ignorance of options; ignorance of prospects of innovations
Financing frameworks Lack of start-up and scale-up capital
Capacity-building via training Lack of technical, financial and managerial skills
Supportive Policy formulation; Social and institutional frameworks Multi-sector linkages/partnerships a. inadequate regulatory/economic instruments;
b. inadequate incentives & structures for stakeholder engagement, linkages & partnerships;
Knowledge/information platforms Inaccessibility to vital information/strategic networks; Isolated actors; inadequate sharing of best-practices and challenges