Resilient seed systems study tour Uganda

From 30 May to 3 June 2022, a group of 16 agricultural professionals from government, private sector and non-governmental organizations, coming from Ethiopia, Sudan and South Sudan, travelled to Uganda to learn about the country’s experiences and achievements related to the conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources and integrated seed sector development.

Through continuous, well-planned and executed experimentation, Joy is now inspiring and training hundreds of other farmers in Uganda and beyond.

The tour was part of a larger capacity development initiative “Tailor-Made Training (TMT) Plus Course on Building resilient food systems in protracted crisis situations: Climate change, seed systems and community seed banks.” This initiative is funded by NUFFIC of the Netherlands, and coordinated by Wageningen University & Research (on the tour represented by Abishkar Subedi), and the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT (represented by Ronnie Vernooy). The tour was facilitated by Joyce Adokorach of the Plant Genetic Resources Center (PGRC) of the National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO) of Uganda.

Uganda’s rich crop and tree diversity and the benefits

From carefully observing the Ugandan farming landscape, the visits to the farming communities, and the interactions with farmer groups, participants realized the importance and multiple functions of crop diversity. Uganda is still a very rich country in terms of crop (and tree) diversity. Based on visual observation along a stretch of the Entebbe-Kampala expressway (not a major agricultural area, but still endowed with many gardens and small farms, and a few larger landholdings, among others, to grow tea), the group identified more than 50 different crop and tree species. Some of the benefits of crop diversity identified by the group, are:

  • It helps to withstand specific crop failure or market fluctuations
  • It provides multiple food and fodder sources and multiple nutrients
  • It contributes to household food security

Promoting neglected and underutilized crops: the case of finger millet

In the village of Kalero, a small group of determined farmers, operating without any outside support, established a finger millet production and marketing group, cultivating two local finger millet varieties that are performing well under tough conditions with good market demand. They work as an autonomously organized group (with clearly defined management roles), which has been registered as an association, allowing the joined marketing of the harvests of group members, and, when there is interest, of other millet producing farmers. Part of the benefits generated goes to the association, part goes to the individual farmers. The group expressed satisfaction about the results obtained so far, but would like to expand its activities −for which it would like to obtain financial and technical support.

Study tour participants in Isingiro district. Bioversity International/R. Vernooy
Study tour participants in Isingiro district. Bioversity International/R. Vernooy

Cherishing and benefitting from crop and varietal diversity

Under the hot mid-day sun of Sheema, the group met with Joy Mugisha, the driving force behind the Joy and Family Demonstration Farm, a combined family-based crop production and crop experimental farm, community seed bank, and farmer training center, with the aim to promote community-based agroecological farming and the full utilization of agrobiodiversity. On the farm, Joy, her family and associates, cultivate and do research on more than 70 bean varieties, with a focus on traditional varieties, which, she says, under constraining local conditions, perform better than improved varieties; on close to 20 banana varieties, and on a number of varieties of the two major coffee species (Arabica and Robusta). Her outstanding knowledge of beans has brought her national and international reknown, the award of best farmer in south Uganda, and the name of Ms Bean Encyclopedia (to which the group added, the Queen of Beans). Through continuous, well-planned and executed experimentation, Joy is now inspiring and training hundreds of other farmers in Uganda and beyond.

Producing quality seed: thriving local seed business

Access to and availability of quality seeds of diverse crops is a major challenge in the countries of the Horn of Africa. In Uganda, during the last decade, a novel approach to the production and distribution of good quality seeds was developed, know as local seed business (LSB) development. This development was supported by the Integrated Seed Sector Development Uganda (ISSD) program, which trained farmers to become qualified seed producers. The ISSD program promoted the Quality Declared Seed (QDS) system, which has minimum certification requirements for specific food crops (e.g. bean). QDS is a formally recognized seed class with a green tamper-proof label, supported by the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF) and the various District Local Governments (DLGs). QDS and LSBs are important elements of Uganda’s revised national Seed policy. To learn about LSBs and QDS, the group visited the Kazo Dryland Husbandry Agro-pastoralists’ Association (KDHAPA), specializing in improved forage seed production; and the Omutima Gwa Ruhiira Farmers Cooperative Society Limited, a LSB specializing in bean seed production (they formally registered as a cooperative in 2014).

The Omutima Gwa Ruhiira Farmers Cooperative Society Limited produced 54 tons of bean seed in 2021 (the first bean harvest in 2014 yielded 45 kg of bean seed). They reported the following ahievements: improved household income; stabel food supply; decent houses for its members; improved education of its members; women involvement in the governance of the cooperative; and reduced domestic violence.

These inspiring LSB stories are proof that through collaborative effort and commitment, sound technical support and collaboration with the National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO), clever marketing and an enabling policy/legal environment, farmers can become successful seed entrepreneurs.

The roles of community seed banks

Very close to the border with Rwanda, in a diverse, hilly landscape, the local government, PGRC-NARO and the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT joined forces to establish the new community seed bank of Kibuya. This community seed bank, which will be officially inaugurated later this month (June 2022), specializes in the conservation, sustainable production and marketing of (common) bean (seeds), for which there is a good demand, including from across the border. A new, spacious facility has been constructed on a parcel of land donated by the local government. The group visited several (climbing) bean gardens and interacted with farmers and the local extensionist about the best bean management practices, such as pest and disease management, crop rotation, and the use of traditional versus improved varieties. The group was impressed by the commitment, the technical knowhow and entrepreneurial spirit of the community seed bank farmers, but also expressed some concern about the focus on a single crop species.

Ronnie Vernooy, Joyce Adokorach, Abishkar Subedi