While potato farming is one of the major income generating enterprises in Kabale District in Uganda, harvests are typically low due to low quality seed, inappropriate varieties and inadequate farmer knowledge and skills, coupled with weak institutional capacity of the actors involved in the sector.
Farmers typically tell us that they are often let down by the quality of seed they plant. They plant the seeds they buy from open markets and most of the time they are already infected with diseases. This can affect their production at the end of the season in a major way.
To enhance high quality productivity of potatoes in areas around Bwindi National Park, EEEGL and the Kachwekano Zonal Agricultural Research and Development Institute (KAZARDI) have partnered to strengthen the capacity of the Uganda National Seed Potato Producers Association (UNSPPA).
KAZARDI employs and encourages a “flush out” system whereby it avails the basic seed potato to UNSPPA and other trained farmers who then produce commercial seed that is availed for ware potato production. However, UNSPPA and the other few groups do not satisfy both the actual and potential demand for quality seed potato. Our partnership is working to build the capacity of UNSPPA to plan, implement, and manage seed potato production and distribution to potato farmers. We see this effort, jointly with UNSSPA, and the farmers group, EEEGL and KAZARDI, as a strategy to strengthen the seed potato system by building a robust and larger institutional capacity and network. This system is expected to have several spin-offs resulting in the improved livelihoods of potato farmers.
We work both on extensions services and on organizational development. At field level, the first phase of training targeted 73 farmers in four “farmer field schools” in Ikumba Sub County, Kabale District, earlier this year. The EEEGL funded training was aimed at enhancing the agronomic skills of seed potato producers. The training, which was facilitated by UNSPPA, was well received by the farmers and is widely acknowledged as one way of increasing potato production levels.
To maintain quality, KAZARDI presently assesses the seed potato produced by UNSPPA members for both field assessment and laboratory tests. Other areas earmarked for training include Kirundo and Bukimbiri in Kisoro district. At the end of the training sessions, KAZARDI conducts field visits for routine monitoring of the progress of farmer field schools run by UNSPPA trainers as they do technical backstopping. Farmer field days will be held seasonally. At the end of each of the next three seasons, an internal evaluation and feedback workshop will be held.
At the same time, we are working with UNSSPA to strengthen its management capacity. This is essential for this organization to expand its membership based (currently only 25) and to build a network of farmers or farmer groups capable of producing quality seed potatoes and in turn train other farmers. I will share our strategy on this aspect in a forthcoming post.