Propagating Seed Potatoes and Farmer-to-Farmer Training

A potato crop is only as good as the seed potatoes that it was started with. In most cases in the Great Lakes region, the seed potatoes are, unfortunately, of poor quality and already harboring diseases such as late blight and bacterial wilt.

In a previous post, we informed you of efforts being made by the EEEGL project with partners on the ground to expand the production and use of quality seed potatoes in Kabale District near Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. To continue this discussion, the following is a brief overview of potato cultivation and the value chain that happens even before a crop is planted.

‘Foundation’ seed potatoes come from original crosses and are therefore robust and are screened to be free of disease. These are first generation potatoes. These foundation seeds are then propagated in fields to produce larger numbers of ‘basic’ seed potatoes that are distributed to farmers who produce potatoes for consumption.

The goal is to get foundation seed potatoes from the Kachwekano Zonal Agricultural Research and Development Institute (KAZARDI) into the hands of farmers equipped at producing quality, and disease-free basic seed potatoes that could then be sold to other farmers in their areas. In Uganda, like many places in the Great Lakes Region, transportation of goods, including seed potatoes, is a problem. By stimulating the cultivation of quality basic seeds throughout the region, access to quality seed potatoes greatly improves for even the most resource-limited farmer.

Thus far, four “farmer field schools” have been established, reaching a total of 82 farmers including 68 women. They have gone through two seasons of hands-on experimentation and exploration. The complete training consists of three consecutive seasons, so that participants can physically view the effects of potato propagation from ‘foundation’ to ‘basic’ to ‘table’ potatoes.

Participants in the Kiruruma farmer field school systematically harvest potatoes from one of their plots. Later they will compare this harvest to that in other fields in which different seed potatoes and agricultural methods were applied. Photo: Helen Ninsiima

Of those initial participants, 12 farmers are now multiplying foundation seeds on their own farms, including one farmer from Ruhijia subcounty that is now a registered member of the Uganda National Seed Potato Producers Association (UNSPPA). At the end of April, experts evaluated the basic seed that he produced, deeming two fields as quality seed potato and one field as infested and therefore not to be sold as seed potatoes. This farmer has since sold his basic potato seed to his neighbors and is reaping the economic rewards of that.

When we began this project, we targeted 100 participating farmers and we resulted in 82 as many farmers were reluctant to participate. However, after seeing the results from the farmer field schools and seeing the results in their neighbor’s farms, they are now ready to participate. This left us with an issue to overcome- how do we address sustainability and continuation of this important project?

The solution that we have put in place is to facilitate the development of an additional four farmer field schools, in new locations, so that the new set of farmers seeking training on production of quality seed potatoes. We have also focused on identifying farmers from the original 82 that can serve as trainers in each of these new farmer field schools. They will all have technical backstopping from UNSPPA, which will have a member in attendance every other week at the new farmer field schools.

The training given to these new farmer trainers has focused on maximizing their capacity to pass on the skills learned through the farmer field schools to others in their areas. The training included facilitation skills and techniques for encouraging others to learn from reflection and discussion.

The EEEGL project has focused on the power that farmer-to-farmer training can have on the sustainability of improved seed potatoes even after the EEEGL project comes to an end. In this way, just like the propagation of potatoes from foundation seed potatoes to basic seed potatoes, the capacity for rural farmers to produce and access quality seed potatoes will also multiply.

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