From the Field

Monday, November 29, 2021

Repairing Soils in Uganda

Ahead of this year’s World Soil Day on December 5, we are sharing the details of a trial underway at Ugacof, Sucafina’s sister company in Uganda, to assess alternatives to synthetic fertilizer. Rather than feeding plants with synthetic fertilizers, we are exploring affordable and effective ways to feed plants naturally in a way that restores soils.

Regenerative agriculture, including efforts to protect and enhance soils, is a key segment of the Investing in Farmers pillar of Sucafina’s recently released sustainability strategy. The soil on many coffee farms often has very low levels of organic matter and therefore struggles to retain moisture and nutrients. Finding ways to add carbon to, and boost microorganisms in, the soil is key to restoring soil balance.To collect data on the most effective approach, we installed 30 demo plots on farms in Uganda and conducted trials using different fertilizers and additional ingredients.

Our first step was to study the impacts on coffee plants of different quantities of organic fertilizer compared to a synthetic fertilizer. We also has several control plots with no fertilizer added. The source of the organic fertilizer we used was black soldier fly larvae, which consume coffee pulp and food waste and convert it into a nutrient-rich compost. Read more about the role the black soldier fly is playing in regenerative agriculture in this article about a project we are working on in Rwanda.

The trials are also assessing different ways to boost the effectiveness of the organic fertilizer by adding ingredients to the soil. Different plots receive different combinations of: a beneficial type of fungus called Trichoderma; a carbon-rich, charcoal-like substance called biochar; and coffee pulp.

Trials are currently underway in the field. Over the course of the next year or so, we will be able to start assessing the impacts by looking at different quality indicators including leaf mass, cherry size regrowth of suckers and yield size.