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The beginning: Seed. Synergies. Systems.

The Feed the Future Uganda Agriculture Research Activity is a research and development initiative that seeks to promote use and commercialization of improved crop and livestock technologies with yield and nutrition enhancing characteristics. The Activity directly supports Development Objectives 1 and 3 in USAID/Uganda’s Country Development Cooperation Strategy (CDCS) 2016-2021.

In order to achieve this objective, the activity focuses on the continued improvement of crop genetics, bio-fortification, integrated pest and disease management for eight commodities; root crops (cassava and sweet potatoes), coffee, semi-arid/dryland crops (sorghum, millet and green gram), banana, beans, maize, potato, and livestock (indigenous chicken).

During the first year of implementation, the project team worked tirelessly to set the pace and deliver on its mission. New varieties were released; early generation seed was multiplied; baseline and market studies were conducted; strategic partnerships established and systems for commercialization were put in place. Here’s a recap of some of the exciting activities and accomplishments of our first year!

Quality seed for farmers: new varieties and intensified multiplication of early generation seed

From intensified efforts to develop better varieties, to ensuring availability of quality seed and planting materials, commodity teams in the first year focused on creating a foundation for sustainable cropping systems and value chains.

New varieties to boost farmers’ resilience and nutrition

In efforts to facilitate development and release of varieties, two new high iron, and drought tolerant bean varieties (NAROBEAN 6 and NAROBEAN 7)were released. These varieties are consumer preferred and suitable for production across the whole country. 1,000 coffee materials were advanced to pre-release evaluation to fast-track release of Arabica coffee varieties and a mother garden for 17 candidate Elgon A Arabica coffee varieties was established.

Two near-release potato clones were subjected to palatability and chipping quality evaluations. Distinctiveness, Uniformity and Stability tests were conducted for drought and disease tolerant sorghum and three high yielding disease resistant and Vitamin-A rich sweet potato candidates which are expected to be released soon. In addition, participatory variety selection demonstration sites for cassava (NAROCASS 1 & NASE 19) and Sweet potato (NASPOT 8, NASPOT 13O & NAROSPOT 1) were also established in northern and eastern Uganda to aid farmer engagement. For maize, three multiple stress-tolerant maize hybrids are scheduled for release while seven zinc-fortified breeding materials are in queue for the formation of future hybrid parents. 

Better Seed!

Screen house multiplication for over four disease-resistant near-release dessert banana varieties was initiated while confined field trials for Banana Xanthomonas Wilt (BXW) resistant transgenic materials continued in the period under review.  

In a bid to avail adequate quality planting materials to community seed enterprises, nursery operators and farmers, the intervention supported seed multiplication of five commercial varieties of cassava (NAROCASS 1 and 2) and sweetpotato (NASPOT 8,13-O and NAROSPOT 1), and  a mother garden of the newly released Robusta coffee varieties (KR8, 9 &10). As a result, foundation seed worth USD 7,083 of finger millet, sorghum, maize and Robusta coffee has been sold.

One metric tonne of NAROBEAN 1 and NAROBEAN 6 seed was delivered to three implementation sites in the eastern, central and western parts of the country. With this, a total of 62 demonstration fields were established in the five target districts

For potato, 1,000 plantlets of KACHPOT1 and 700 plantlets of Kinigi were planted in an aeroponic unit to increase seed quantities of these two popular potato varieties for their promotion among consumers. 1,500 plantlets of two new potato clones have been generated in preparation for release.

In order to improve productivity of the existing banana plantations in the northern region, 100 farmers were identified to host demonstration fields in Lira, Gulu, Nwoya and Oyam districts to showcase improved banana agronomic and integrated pest management practices to the farmers. Distribution of improved banana hybrids (M30, M27 and FHIA 17) will commence at the onset of rains expected around March 2021.

To kickstart assembling of elite indigenous chicken ecotypes from different regions of Uganda, the project secured USAID’s approval for the concept and developed a selection criteria for chicken collection.

Understanding commodity markets and the potential for value addition

Stakeholder consultations on scaling of banana in northern Uganda revealed a potentially huge banana market in the region, Southern Sudan and Sudan, presenting significant business opportunities for the farmers in these areas. Banana is intended to change the communities of Northern Uganda from depending on volatile, unstable annual cropping systems to more stable and reliable perennial cropping systems thereby improving and stabilizing their food and income security. Preliminary findings of a detailed market study showed that bananas were more profitable compared to key staples such as sim-sim, soya-beans, beans, groundnuts etc, with profitability margins of Ush6.2million/acre/year compared to rice’s Ush2.6million, groundnuts’ Ush2.0million or soybean’s Ush1.4million.

Other findings revealed that bananas consumed in Acholi and Lango sub-regions alone were worth Ush25.99billion and that most of them are sourced from other areas justifying the need to increase production in the region from 27.5 to 80 bunches/acre/month.

A market study into coffee value-added products also revealed a high market potential and demand for instant coffee – NaCofe-Elgona and it informed the development of other coffee products including; complementary powders, for increased antioxidant activity and coffee-infused products.

For potato, in a market driven and community centered approach, a market study was conducted to evaluate the tastes and preferences for the different potato varieties in the market in order to guide the release of the available potato technologies and inform future developments of potato technologies. It also evaluated inclusive business models along the potato value chain to enhance the development of the private sector amongst the potato value chain actors and thus guide better, periodic production and sales volumes. The study also set out to assess the efficiency of different services (market & weather information, financial services, input supply services etc.) supporting the potato value chain in the area towards developing strategies for strengthening weak areas, and to analyze the present government policies and regulations related to the potato sector. From the study findings, appropriate recommendations for amendments and enforcements were proposed. More studies on potato, coffee, livestock, root-crops, livestock and dryland cereals are expected in year two.

Building critical partnerships and collaborations

In partnership with the private sector, two multi-stakeholder innovation platforms for Banana and Semi-arid/dryland crops were formed. The Banana platform participated in the profiling and selection of four banana products (Green/Natural Starch, Industrial Ethanol, fiber and long shelf life fresh banana). Currently, the market study to assess the domestic and export market potential for four flagship banana products is ongoing and experiments to inform feasibility of production at scale have commenced.

The coffee team signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Optimisa Research limited to fast-track commercialization of prospective coffee products i.e. specialty coffee, infused coffee yoghurt and coffee cosmetics.  In the offing is another MoU with Community Enterprises Development Organization (CEDO), a private sector player in joint effort to develop a prototype of the precooked beans product and conduct market studies. Further, in order to streamline access of cassava varieties with brewing properties, NARO is renegotiating an MoU with South African Breweries (SAB).  


NARO also collaborated with the department of National Seed Certification Services for seed quality assurance; Makerere University & Gulu Universities for graduate students training; Integrated Seed Sector Development(ISSD) project for supporting the production of Quality Declared seed and capacity building of Local seed businesses(LSBs); seed companies (Pearl Seeds Co. Ltd, Grow More Seeds Ltd & Equator Seeds Ltd) for production and marketing of certified seeds.

During year one, the project also engaged district local governments and Uganda National Farmers’ Federation in the selection of appropriate communities, farmer groups and individual farmers to participate in cassava variety selection trials and clean seed demonstrations.

Creating enablers: strengthening capacity and commercialization systems

Photo by Pixabay on

Alongside sustained efforts to ensure availability of quality seed and building partnerships with relevant players, year one saw deliberate interventions towards strengthening NARO’s capacity and infrastructure for commercialization of newly developed and existing research products.  The project facilitated the development of three variety licensing agreements for grains, vegetatively propagated crops and tree crops. Through this project, NARO also spearheaded the approval of regulations to operationalize the Plant Variety Protection (PVP)Act. This is a key step towards protecting research generated plant varieties and the plant breeder’s rights.

On human capacity development, six PhD and seven masters students were recruited. These are intended to support the project through studies aligned to emerging industrial development and market needs of products and technologies to be commercialized by NARO.

Research infrastructure and machinery was also prioritized in year one. Under maize, a cold storage facility for improved and prolonged seed curation was renovated and two coffee screen houses were constructed for breeding and seed multiplication purposes.

Renovation of the potato aeroponic unit was completed and 1000 plantlets of KACHPOT1 and 700 plantlets of Kinigi have been planted in the unit . In addition, repairs of a chicken raring facility at Mukono Zonal Agriculture Research Development Institute were completed.

Regarding machinery, coffee secured equipment for quality assessments and compliance to regulatory standards while a bean thresher and planter were upgraded to suit local application and inclusiveness.

Compiled by Winnie Nanteza and Joshua Raymond Muhumuza | NARO

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