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  • on 23.12.2015
  • at 11:11 AM
  • by Kimberley Evans

Climate Smart Coffee and Banana Set to Boost East African Farmers’ Income 0

Ugandan farmers are increasingly inter-planting coffee, the country’s primary export, and banana, a staple food, as a way of coping with the effects of climate change.

In densely populated Elgon and Rwenzori Mountains, the two crops have been planted together on smallholder farms despite recommendations under the colonial agricultural extension system to separate these in Central and Western Uganda where land was believed to be plentiful.

With growing population pressure and climate change, this is no longer possible. But studies by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and partner organizations show that a Ugandan farmer gets 50 per cent more income from inter cropping coffee and banana than from growing either crop alone.

Conducted in over 30 districts of Uganda, the study showed that coffee yield remained the same when intercropped with bananas and the farmers gained additional income from the banana.

According to Piet Van Asten, a Systems Agronomist with IITA in Kampala, the Arabica coffee growing region around Mt. Elgon, had annual returns per hectare averaging 4,441 dollars for coffee and banana grown together, compared to 1,728 and 2,364 dollars for mono cropped banana and coffee, respectively.

In the Robusta-growing areas in South and Southwest Uganda, annual returns per intercropped hectare averaged 1,827 dollars, compared to up to 1,286 dollars for mono cropped banana and coffee.

Van Asten and other researchers at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) suggest inter cropping coffee and banana may also help farmers cope with climate change pressures.

With average temperatures in Uganda expected to increase by 2 degrees Celsius in the coming decades, resulting in erratic rainfall, coffee – Uganda’s most important cash crop – will suffer.

Coffee generates about 20 per cent of the country’s total export revenues and provides smallholder farmers with their main cash income. Both the Robusta and Arabica coffee varieties require a cool tropical climate that is found only at higher altitudes, generally above 1400 meters.

If systems are not adapted, the study findings show, areas below 1300 meters will likely become completely unsuitable for Arabica coffee production. Those between 1300-1700 meters will be compromised for coffee if farmers do not change current practices that use traditional varieties and make limited use of water conservation and shade technologies.

Inter cropping coffee with banana provides a promising alternative. Shade from the taller banana trees can reduce temperatures for the coffee plants by 2 degrees Celsius or more. The permanent canopy, root systems, and mulch from the banana plants prevent soil erosion and degradation in Uganda’s hilly landscape.

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by Wambi Michael

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