The New Times (Kigali)

Rwanda: Farmers Urged to Limit Chemical Fertilisers

A RENOWNED regional expert has advised farmers to limit the use of chemical fertilisers in order to contribute to protecting the environment and climate against polluting agents.

Dr Charles Francis Mugoya told The Sunday Times in an exclusive interview that extensive use of chemical fertilisers plays a role in the increase of nitrous oxide in the air, thus causing more troubles to the environment.

Mugoya is the programme Manager for Bio-Technology and Agro-biodiversity for the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA), a regional research promotion organisation operating in eleven countries across Africa- Rwanda, Soudan, Ethiopia, South Soudan, Eritrea, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo and Madagascar.

According to Mugoya, farmers should prioritise the use of organic fertilisers, which he said "bring about efficiency, fertility and higher yields' over chemical fertilisers."

"In an integrated farming system where you have livestock and crops growing together, you get animals providing nutrients [for crops] and then the crops are providing food because the manure you get from your animals acts as a natural fertiliser.

"That is how you can reduce the emission of nitrous oxide, which is a very terrible gas coming out of overuse of nitrogen fertilisers", Dr Mugoya said.

Nitrogen-based fertilisers stimulate microbes in the soil to convert nitrogen to nitrous oxide at a faster rate than normal.

Though it makes up an extremely small amount of the atmosphere (it is less than one-thousandth as abundant as carbon dioxide), Nitrous oxide (N2O) has over 300 times more impact on warming the atmosphere than carbon dioxide (CO2), according to scientists. Nitrous oxide, a major greenhouse gas and air pollutant, can last up to 150 years and has one of the longest atmosphere lifetimes of the greenhouse gases. And experts warn that due to the time it spends in the atmosphere, the nitrous oxide that we release today will still be trapping heat well into the next century.

According to scientists, the application of synthetic fertilizers accounts for the majority of N2O emissions though there are other sources of the gas-like burning fossil fuels and wood for instance.

Dr Mugoya also notes that there are a number of technologies "sitting on the shelves" which can help farmers, especially those from the third world, cope with the effects of climate change.

He singled out soil and water harvesting, soil fertility management, improved crop varieties and irrigation, among others, as some strategies that can help farmers cope with climate change.

"All these technologies are targeted and efficient", he stated. "They help us to produce more food using less land and less water resources; so they preserve the environment and the effect of that is that you have got less damage to the environment and therefore reduced climate change effects".

But Mugoya says despite the technologies being at the hands of the farmers, a lot of them are not utilised because farmers ignore them. Thus, he notes the need for the media to help spread them to the community.

"Scientists are not the best people to promote these technologies. Their role is to conduct research", Dr Mugoya notes.

"It is the journalists who interface with people who can actually take these messages to the farmers. They have got an important role to understand the new advances that have happened in the area of technology, break it down and digest it for the local population and farmers," he concluded.

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