Agroforestry Coffee cultivation in combination with mulching, trenches and organic composting in Uganda


This technology describes a combination of good practices for soil and water conservation that were introduced to coffee farmers in the central cattle corridor of Uganda, with the aim to enhance their resilience to dry spells, pests and diseases, as part of the Global Climate Change Alliance (GCCA) project on Agriculture Adaptation to Climate Change in Uganda. The combination of good practices include: (a) mulching, a low cost practice that consists in covering the soil with locally available degradable plant materials to reduce water runoff and evapotranspiration; (b) digging contour trenches for harvesting water during the rainy season while preserving soil quality; (c) preparation and application of organic compost to improve soil fertility at low costs; and (d) planting shade trees within the coffee plantation in order to provide shade and improve soil fertility.


1. Description of the application of the technology/practice
This technology describe a combination of good practices for soil and water conservation that were introduced to coffee farmers in the central cattle corridor of Uganda, with aim to enhance their resilience to dry spells, pests and diseases, as part of the Global Climate Change Alliance (GCCA) project on Agriculture Adaptation to Climate Change in Uganda.
The combination of good practices include:

a) mulching, a low cost practice that consists in covering the soil with locally available degradable plant materials to reduce water runoff and evapotranspiration; 

b) digging contour trenches for harvesting water during the rainy season while preserving soil quantity;

c) preparation and application of organic compost to improve soil fertility at low costs; and 

d) planting shade trees within the coffee plantation in order to provide shade and improve soil fertility.
This technology briefly introduces the concepts of mulching, trenches, organic compost and planting shade trees and presents a cost-benefit analysis of the combination of the 4 good practices compared to normal practices.
1.1 Coffee cultivation 
Temperature and rainfall conditions are two of the main determinants of coffee yield. According to a USAID vulnerability study published in 2013, the optimum temperature range for Arabica is somewhere between 18 °C and 23 °C. Higher temperatures have a negative impact on both yield and quality. Above 23°C, the development and ripening of cherries are accelerated, often leading to loss of quality. Continuous exposure to daily temperatures as high as 30°C could result not only in reduced growth but also in abnormalities such as yellowing of leaves.
1.2 Mulching
Mulch is defined as any material applied to the soil surface as cover. Mulching is a low cost practice that consists in covering the soil with locally available degradable plant materials to help the soil-crop system to reduce water runoff and evapotranspiration, as well as for the mineralization of organic matter, while counteracting the nutrient loss.
1.2.1 Socio economic benefits of mulching
Mulching allows to:
(a) Conserve soil moisture, and therefore reduce effects of rainfall variabilities and droughts;
(b) Improve soil fertility and health
(c) Help reduce direct raindrop impact and reduce soil erosion, for instance in case of intense rainfall
(d) Slow water evaporation
(e) Prevents weeds from emerging
(f) Improve organic matter content and soil nutrient status
(g) Provide a beneficial environment for soil organisms, such as worms and millipedes, that are important for biological tillage; and
(h) Regulate the temperature during warmer and colder seasons.
1.2.2 Cost
Usually, organic matters for mulching are available on the farm as they mostly consist in crop residues. Mulching therefore only involves some labor to cut and bring the crop residues on the soil, but no additional costs to buy the mulch itself.
1.2.3 Side effects
Organic mulches decompose over time, improving soil structure and quality, and returning nutrients to the soil. Increased amounts of organic matter will improve soil tilth and drainage, increase soil moisture retention, reduce soil compaction and attract earthworms. Because organic mulches decompose, they need to be replaced. Depending on the type of mulch used, replacement intervals vary from one to four years.
1.2.4 Major Barriers
Organic mulching requires access to some crop residues, compost, grass, animal manure or leaves.
1.2.5 General Recommendations
The general recommendation is to have a mulching depth of 2 to 4 inches (5 to 10 cm).   Mulch should be kept at a minimum of 20 cm away from the trunk of the plant. This space will allow for air circulation around the base of the plant and help avoid potential disease problems that can arise from excessive moisture against the trunk. 
1.2.6 Synergies with other good practices
(a) Cover crops
(b) Minimum tillage
(c) Improved varieties
(d) Organic fertilizers
1.3 Trenches
Trenches are dug along the contours of the plantation, with the aim of harvesting water during the rainy season and by keeping it around the agricultural land, infiltration and soil moisture are enhanced.  In addition, trenches slow down rainwater runoff and as a consequence soil moisture is improved and soil quality is preserved. This technique is particularly useful in areas where rainfall is sparse, and their applicability fits all kinds of soils and rain conditions.
Picture1: "Trenches along a coffee plantation"
1.3.1 Socio-economic benefits of trenches
Trenches allow to:
(a) Harvest water
(b) Prevent soil degradation and erosion, hence, preserving soil quality
(c) Enhance surface water infiltration 
1.3.2 Cost
This technique only involves labor (depending on the soil conditions) to dig the trenches along the contours of the plantation, which could be the most expensive input, in addition to the cost of basic construction materials for digging the trenches. 
1.3.3 Side effects
No side effects were identified regarding the use the trenches.
1.3.4 Major Barriers
(a) It requires work from farmers to dig and maintain the trenches.
(b) Less land might be available for cultivation.
1.3.5 General Recommendations
Sediments should be removed from the trenches and reapplied to the field.
1.3.6 Synergies with other good practices
(a) Mulching
(b) Cover crops
(c) Minimum tillage
(d) Improved varieties
(e) Organic fertilizers
(f) Agroforestry
1.4 Organic Composting
Compost is decomposed organic matter, such as crop residues and/or animal manure. Composting contributes to soil fertility and soil structure in the long term due to the increase of organic matter content of the soil. Adding compost to sandy soils increases the water retention capacity. This means that water remains longer in the soil and thus remains available to plants for a longer time in periods of drought.
Compost is an organic fertilizer that can be made on the farm at very low cost, since most of its ingredients (natural materials of either plant or animal origin, including livestock manure, green manures, crop residues, household waste and woodland litter) can be easily found around the farm, being the farmer's labor the most important input. 
1.4.1 Socio-economic benefits of organic composting 
Continued use of organic fertilizers results in increased soil organic matter, reduced erosion, better water infiltration and aeration, higher soil biological activity as the materials decompose in soil, and increased yields after the year of application. Crops with fertilizer application perform better (better yields) than the plots with inorganic fertilizers. During production of compost manure, large amounts of vegetation such as crop remains, garden weeds, kitchen and household waste, hedge cuttings, and garbage are put to good use.
Benefits include:
(a) When properly made, compost is immediately available as plant food;
(b) Compost does not cause excessive weed growth;
(c) Good crop yields can be obtained without the need for extra chemical inputs;
(d) All farmers regardless of their financial abilities, can make and use compost;
(e) Compost manure can be used in all soils with low fertility;
(f) Compost manure is especially good in areas that receive low rainfall. In such areas, artificial fertilizers cannot be used effectively because of limited moisture. In addition, compost will maintain soil moisture, which artificial fertilizers do not do;
(g) Compost manure is also useful in sandy soils which have poor water holding capacity.  
1.4.2 Cost 
Compost is made by farmers or bought. They are usually available on or near the farm at very little or no cost other than labor costs of handling, transportation, or opportunity costs of land used for their production.
Estimating the cost of the technology can be difficult because most of the necessary resources are found within the farm. Labor for constructing compost pits is the most expensive input. Depending on the size, it can be estimated to be equivalent to one person working for a day. Collecting organic material and then applying the compost constitute the additional costs. 
1.4.3 Side effects
No side effects were identified regarding the use organic fertilizers.
1.4.4 Major Barriers
It requires work from farmers to create their own compost, prior to its application to the field. 
Organic composting limitations are:
(a) Composting is labor intensive and requires a lot of organic materials. Some have to be gotten outside the farm;
(b) The outputs of using compost are not immediate, results appear only after some seasons and it requires some labor. Farmers see immediate results with inorganic fertilizers, but these have adverse impacts at the difference of organic ones. The challenge is to teach farmers to be patient and consistently use compost for six years without switching if they don’t see immediate results.The challenge is to teach farmers to be patient and consistently use compost for six years without switching if they don’t see immediate results.
1.4.5 General Recommendations

(a) If the quantity of organic fertilizer is limited, it may be banded along furrows or spot applied, but the seed needs to be placed away from the fertilizer.

(b) The outputs of using compost are not immediate, results appear only after some seasons and it requires some labor. Farmers see immediate results with inorganic fertilizers, but these have adverse impacts at the difference of organic ones. The challenge is to teach farmers to be patient and consistently use compost for six years without switching if they don’t see immediate results.

1.4.6 Synergies with other good practices

  • Improved varieties
  • Mulching
  • Minimum tillage
  • Cover crops
1.5 Agroforestry
Agroforestry is the mixture of trees and crops in cultivated parcels.It increases land productivity and offers at the same time many environmental services. According to some studies, agroforestry induces a significant increase in productivity, far better than any other innovation introduced by agronomists in the recent past. One adaptation measure consists of producing coffee under agroforestry systems or shade grown systems. In Uganda, the typical agroforestry systems developed is the intercropping with banana trees. Agroforestry species such as Ficus natelensis, Ficus sur and Maesopsis eminii may also be used with Arabica coffee in Uganda to provide shade and improve soil fertility. 
The actual agricultural development programs in Uganda support access to fertilizers and pesticides, which can have beneficial effects on crops yields and productivity in the short term but contribute to soil degradation in the long term. Agroforestry on the contrary not only increases yields, but can also restore soil fertility though the use of nitrogen fixing species. 
1.5.1 Socio-economic benefits of agroforestry
 Agroforestry systems offer many advantages (economic and ecological benefits):
  • Fewer inputs required
  • Timber and firewood production improve coffee farmers’ income when agroforestry is practiced with the use of nitrogen fixing trees; 
  • The trees can also provide fodder for livestock and bark cloth which can be used domestically or sold to supplement household income.By spreading income over several crops, these systems are economically less risky than coffee monocultures;
  • The erosion of fragile mountain soils is reduced (i.e. the canopy intercepts raindrops, reducing the erosive impact on the soil below); 
  • Trees act as wind breaks;
  • Exploitation of natural forest reserves is limited;
  • Shade trees create a microclimate propitious to quality coffee production; and
  • A smaller crop on coffee trees and an extension of the cherry ripening period are propitious to better quality coffee.
The use of this method allows farmers to create more suitable areas to grow Arabica coffee. The effects of the agroforestry, by providing shade for instance, can reduce temperature variation and can be an adequate option to reduce vulnerability to expected climate change, as shade trees can reduce temperatures in the coffee canopy by 2–3°C  and can even buffer high and low temperature extremes by up to 5°C (Vaast & van Kanten, 2006).Coffee also requires adequate moisture, in terms of both rainfall and relative humidity. Shade from the trees helps reduce potential evapotranspiration by modifying solar radiation, which increases potential suitable land for Arabica coffee.
1.5.2 Cost
The economists from World Agroforestry Centre have estimated the cost of training and equipping one farm family to practice agroforestry to be about US$2.5. 
The costs associated to the production of Arabica coffee are as follows:
  • Producers grow the SL14, SL35 and KP28 Arabica varieties
  • Purchase of shade tree seedlings
  • Each coffee seedling costs around 300UGX and households plant at an average density of about 500  trees/acre
  • Coffee is sold between 2,200 and 5,500UGX/kg.
1.5.3 Side effects
Under good management, modest shading (<40%) does not appear to have any negative impact on yield.
1.5.4 Major Barriers
One barrier to upscaling agroforestry lies in the lack of tree seed supply for nitrogen fixing trees. Even though there is a demand for seeds from farmers, they are often unable to obtain them because of costs or inadequate supply. This barrier reduces considerably the potential expansion of agroforestry systems. A reliable seed supply and distribution system on a much greater scale is required to increase adoption of agroforestry practices.
1.5.5 General recommendation 
  • Agroforestry can be potentiated with the use of improved crop varieties and intercropping
  • Demonstration of agroforestry’s effects is particularly important to show this method to potential farmers.

1.5.6 Synergies with other good practices

  • Mulching
  • Trenches
  • Organic composting
  • Intercropping

2. Benefits

Climate change adaptation related benefits: the combination of mulching, trenches, organic composting and shade trees can reduce the negative impact of prolonged dry periods on coffee production. Therefore, the production of a vulnerable crop such as Arabica coffee would be better adapted to climate change effects after the adoption of this set of good practices. 

2.1 Economic

Cost-Benefit Analyses were conducted based on quantitative data collected during the monitoring period in the 2016 dry season (Jun-Aug). The monitoring was done in farms that have been implementing mulchingtrenches, organic composting and shade trees since 2 to 7 years. Annual coffee production is considered,including two harvests of coffee per year. Data collected from good practice plots were compared with data collected from control plots within the same farms. Graph 1 shows that, in dry spell conditions, coffee cultivation with mulching, trenches, organic composting and shade trees brings returns 14% higher than coffee cultivation without any soil and water conservation (SWC) practice. The benefit-cost ratio of the local practice is higher than the BCR of the good practice. This is due to the higher capital and running costs involved with the implementation of the good practice. In particular, the good practice requires additional labor and capital costs (i.e. purchase of shade tree seedlings and materials for digging trenches). However, when considering the absolute value of net benefits, the good practice shows a better performance.

Graph 1: “Cumulative Net Benefits and Benefit Cost Ratios of Good Practice and Local Practice ($ per acre per year) 2016 Dry Season (Jun-Aug)"

2.2 Environmental

According to farmers interviewed, soil quality has improved considerably since the implementation of the good practice. Furthermore, the planting of shade trees increases carbon sequestration, contributing to mitigation of climate change. In addition, agroforestry can reduce temperature variation in the plots and can be an adequate option to reduce vulnerability to expected climate change. 


1. Geographical area of practice validation

23 farms in Kiboga (3), Mubende(1) and Sembabule(19) districts in the central cattle corridor of Uganda.

2. Context of implementation 

2.1. Environmental and climatic context During the 2016 dry season (June to August), the performance of this good practice package was monitored in 23 farms in Kiboga (3), Mubende (1) and Sembabule (19) districts. All the farms were affected by a dry spell during the monitoring period. Few farms also experienced strong winds, heavy rains, pests and diseases. Dry spell was the main hazard: rainfall was between 50-100% below normal in August, and land surface temperatures were 3-7 degrees Celsius above average, causing a reduction in water availability.

2.2. Economic (Livelihood strategy) and Social (target group) context Coffee producers of the central cattle corridor of Uganda.

Further reading

Boeckmann, S., & Iolster, P. (n.d.). Agroforestry in Africa: Exploring the Lack of Widespread Implementation and the Potential for Expansion. USAID. Retrieved from
Jassogne, L., Laderach, P., & Van Asten, P. (2013). The impact of climate change on coffee in Uganda.
Namirembe, S., Ndemere B, P., Nyeko, P., Obua, & Tumwebaze, S. (2006). Agroforestry for Development in Ugangda. Retrieved from
UBOS. (2010). Uganda Census of Agriculture 2008/2009.
USAID. (2013). Uganda Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment Report.
Vaast, P., & van Kanten, R. (2006, June). Transpiration of Arabica Coffee and Associated Shade Tree Species in Sub-optimal, Low-altitude Conditions of Costa Rica. Agroforestry Systems, 67(2), 187-202. doi:DOI 10.1007/s10457-005-3744-y



Created date

Fri, 19/05/2017 - 17:07


FAO Strategic Objective 5 – Resilience, in FAO

Sustainable development cannot be achieved without resilient livelihoods. People around the world are increasingly exposed to natural hazards and crises – from drought, floods, earthquakes and disease epidemics to conflict, market shocks and complex, protracted crises. Worldwide, 75 percent of poor and food insecure people rely on agriculture and natural resources for their living. They are usually hardest hit by disasters.   

The recurrence of disasters and crises undermines countries’ efforts to eradicate hunger and malnutrition and to achieve sustainable development. People who rely on farming, livestock, forests or fishing for their food and income – around one-third of the world’s population – are often the most vulnerable and affected. Climate change, in particular extreme weather-related shocks, is exacerbating the situation. SP5 assists countries to increase the resilience of households, communities and institutions to more effectively prevent and cope with threats and disasters that impact agriculture, food security and nutrition. It focuses across all agricultural subsectors on . 

  • natural hazards and related disasters such as floods, droughts and earthquakes 
  • food chain threats caused by plant pests and diseases and animal diseases, as well as food safety threats such as radio nuclear contamination or avian flu
  • conflicts and protracted crises.

SP5 helps countries and communities to prevent and cope with these different areas of risks and shocks through normative guidance, technical standards and their implementation in the field. FAO resilience work feeds into global processes such as the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, the One Health approach for food chain crises and the Committee on World Food Security's Agenda for Action for addressing food insecurity in protracted crises. SP5 country support like the implementation of DRR good practices at country and local levels is delivered in close collaboration with and based on technical advice from FAO technical divisions, including AGA, AGP, CBC, FIA and FOA.


Previous, Climate, Energy and Tenure Division (NRC) in FAO

The Climate Impact, Adaptation and Environmental Sustainability team of the Climate, Energy and Tenure Division (NRC) develops the knowledge base on the impact of climate, climate change and climate variability on agriculture, and facilitates the use of this information and knowledge through field projects. The team also supports capacity development at national level by supporting governments to integrate disaster risk reduction in the agriculture sector as well as identifying, testing and validating in cooperation with various partners climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction good practice options to build resilience of all actors in agriculture to the impact of climate change and extreme weather events.

Organic Agriculture work in FAO:

The coordination of FAO’s organic agriculture activities is housed in the Climate, Energy and Tenure Division. Since 1999, the Organic Agriculture programme works along three main areas:

  • Strengthening the ability to exchange information and to set-up organic agriculture networks, in order to ensure that producers, operators and governments have access to the reliable and quality information needed for informed decision-making, for directing research and extension, and for making investments;
  • Developing and disseminating knowledge and tools that support organic plant protection, soil and nutrient management, animal husbandry and post-harvest operations, especially in developing countries and market-marginalized areas;
  • Assisting governments in designing the types of legal and policy frameworks that provide support to farmers by facilitating the marketing and trade of certified organic products that meet international inspection and certification standards.

For queries related to climate change and disaster risk reductions, you can contact: or

For queries on organic agriculture, you can contact: Nadia Scialabba.