Joint Efforts Address Smallholder Potato Production in Northwestern Uganda
Claus Opio, Program Officer, ZODFA
Peter Van Erum (Peter.van.erum@trias.Ngo), Regional Partnership Manager, Trias East Africa
Potatoes are mainly grown in the higher altitude regions of southwestern Uganda but also in parts of the east and the northwest. One such area in the northwest is Zombo District in the West Nile subregion of Uganda. Zombo District is bordered by Arua District to the north, Nebbi District to the east and the Democratic Republic of Congo to the south and west. At an altitude of more than 1,500 meters, Zombo District has a tropical climate with two distinct rainy seasons from March to May and from August to November. The average annual rainfall is 1,200 mm and the average temperature is 25 degrees Celsius. There is some livestock farming of cattle, goats and chickens. The main crops grown are cassava, maize, sorghum, coffee, beans, millet and sweet potatoes. Climate change is threatening the productivity of these main staple foods. Because potatoes can produce more food with less water and land than other staple crops and have shorter production periods, they form an excellent alternative to provide food and income for the growing number of households facing food insecurity. In recent years potatoes have also gained popularity in Uganda’s urban centers.
These and other factors led to potato production becoming an important agricultural activity in Zombo District. Potatoes are mostly grown by small-scale family farmers (less than 1 ha) for both subsistence and commercial purposes. The farmers usually work individually, which deprives them from lucrative markets, quality seeds and storage facilities. They have limited access to knowledge about disease management, appropriate cropping and climate smart practices. The farmers face problems of soil erosion and nutrient deficiencies. Zombo District Farmer Association addressed these issues in cooperation with various local and international partners.
Public and private partners
Zombo District Farmers Association (ZODFA) is a farmer-owned organization with around 12,000 members (54% women, 44% youth, and 2% with special needs) active in the potato, bean, honey and coffee value chains. Farmers gain access to improved services as well as having a say in the policies and priorities of the association.
Trias is a Belgian, farmer-supported NGO and Agri-Agency partnering with the global network Farmers Fighting Poverty. Trias now supports 300 farmers’ organizations in more than 50 countries and started a partnership with ZODFA in 2014. Through Belgian Government funding, support was provided to ZODFA in organizational strengthening, agro-enterprise development, climate resilience and inclusion of vulnerable groups. Trias’ concurrent partnership with Nyaravur Savings and Credit Co-operation Organization (SACCO) which neighbors Nebbi District improved ZODFA members’ access to financial services such as loans, savings and financial literacy. Cooperation with Trias opened more doors:
- Technical assistance from Agristo to improve agricultural practices and potato storage in a G-STIC and Belgian government-funded project.
- Support from Vocational Training Institute Torhout in Belgium to build a potato grading machine.
- Support from Farm and Forest Development, a Finnish Agri-agency with Trias to improve potato farmer climate resilience and exchange with other potato grower organizations in the region.
National Agriculture Research Organization (NARO), Integrated Seed Sector Development (ISSD), Nutrition Income Generating Intervention (NIGI), Vermipro Organic Fertilizer, Zombo District Local Government, and Kilimo Kisasa, are national or regional organizations that worked alongside ZODFA and Trias.
Steps taken to resolve the constraints
With support from the above partners, the following steps have been undertaken in the last years:
- Good agricultural practices of table and seed potato growing were introduced through on-site trainings and coaching, participatory research and exposure visits to successful practicing farmers (Picture 1).
- Provision of solar powered mini-irrigation kits to farmers.
- Construction of improved stores.
- Adoption of soil improvement measures.
- Promoting local seed producers and connections to large potato buyers (e.g. Sumz).
Through all these interventions and interactions, ZODFA succeeded in better organizing the potato farmers, involving more women and youth, and increasing potato productivity. The current project with Trias focuses on access to quality seeds through seed multiplication and storage facilities, while building resilience to climate change through climate-smart agriculture practices. Major achievements include:
- 40 farmers who obtained mini-irrigation kits have improved their resilience to drought and significantly increased production.
- Intensive training and coaching, as well as farmer exposure visits, shifted farmers’ mindsets towards more business-oriented potato production and engagement in potato seed production.
- Improved stores resulted in a reduction in post-harvest losses (from 30% to 10% so far) and improved seed quality.
- Soil improvement measures, use of improved varieties (Taurus and Markies), inputs for soil fertility, and pest and disease control have led to improved productivity (5 to 9 tons/ha currently and aiming for 12 tons/ha by the end of 2023).
- Improved access to markets (e.g. SUMZ).
- Increased number of farmers engaged in potato production. Due to the improvements in the potato value chain, more people are investing in the sector, including youth and women. Youth are attracted to potato production due to its short production period of 90 days, so they do not have to wait for a very long time to harvest and enjoy the proceeds. Potato growing is not a very laborious activity as compared to crops like coffee, so women find it easier to grow potatoes and earn a quick income.
- Increased employment of youth. During harvest and marketing, youth are employed to transport the produce to the marketing points as well as making potatoes ready for sale. Youth are further employed on farms to apply inputs (fertilizers) and spraying for pest and disease control.
- Access to clean planting material (potato seed). Partnerships with Kilimo Kisasa has made clean seed available to the farmers without travelling long distances. Additionally, the growing number of local seed producers has made seed available close to the producers; 80 local seed producers from four seed producers’ associations have been established and receive ongoing support.
- Availability of finance for investment: more than 4500 farmers now have access to specific loan products through a partnership with Nyaravur Farmers’ Sacco.
- Anna Odubi, chairperson of ZODFA and Ojebu Women Group, attended the World Potato Congress in Dublin (2022) and met potato farmers and processors in Belgium (organized by Trias and Agricord). This exposure inspired her to develop potatoes as a real agri-business with her fellow farmers. Together with the staff of ZODFA, they designed a fertilization program of fertilizer and other soil amendments suitable for potato production. This was based on results of a soil analysis of samples from different farms. Furthermore, they developed a pest and disease management program aimed at reducing incidences of crop failure. Anna Odubi also met with Agristo and VTI Torhout who later got intensively engaged with ZODFA.
ZODFA and its members learned that potato growing can definitely be a profitable business, especially with urbanization resulting in a steady increase in potato demand. With regards to production, we learned that potatoes require deep fertile soil to perform well and that application of recommended agro-chemicals at recommended rates to manage pest and diseases is necessary to achieve good yields. We also learned the importance of appropriate storage.
Furthermore, we observed that modern potato farming can easily be adopted by farming communities through capacity-strengthening partnerships, exchange visits and addressing identified challenges with farmers on the spot.
Finally, we learned that common understanding and participative decision-making helps build trust among group members. This is done through the Enabling Rural Innovation (ERI) approach developed by Trias, allowing farmers to analyze facts about profits, markets and agronomic practices and make their own informed decisions on what, where, how and when to grow.