Policy makers and those in charge of agricultural production place emphasis on particular commodities they consider priority. These include rice, cassava, banana, beans, sweet potato, groundnuts, livestock and fisheries but not indigenous green vegetables.
Now, National Crop Resources Research Institute (NaCRRI) and Mukono Zonal Agricultural Research and Development Institute (Muzardi) have initiated breeding programmes for indigenous vegetables and encouraging farmers to grow them.
Standards to follow
The initiative, funded by Centre for Agricultural Biosciences International (Cabi) is promoting vegetables such as Amaranth species commonly known as doddo, cowpea, nakkati, Gynandropsis gynandra (African spider flower), African eggplant, Hibiscus cannabinus (malakwang) and pumpkin.
Christine Alokit, communication and extension scientist at Cabi Uganda office, while giving an overview of challenges faced by farmers growing indigenous vegetables, pointed out that farmers lack knowledge on standards to follow when packaging vegetables for marketing hence get low prices.
Other challenges include less availability of foundation seed, lack of certification of indigenous vegetables seed as well as timing of harvesting, which is sometimes delayed.
Breed the best
Dr Sophie Musana, team leader for horticulture at NaCRRI, believes that farmers have since abandoned cultivating indigenous vegetables to focus on commercial crops like maize, cassava, rice, banana and beans.
Her team has introduced breeding indigenous vegetable seed for multiplication. The vegetables include duty marrow, Amaranth, African spider flower, nakkati, malakwang and pumpkin species from Northern Uganda.
“At breeding point, we look out for pest and diseases and how best to breed varieties that may adapt to various geographical locations as well as multiply seed, which we then sell to farmers at reduced prices between Shs500 to Shs1,000 depending on the gram package,” Dr Musana said.
Money and diet
Most of the listed vegetables are prone to pests such as grasshoppers, mites, aphids and caterpillars that keep destroying their leaves.
The scientists usually advise farmers to monitor their gardens by applying water on the vegetables, which can be sucked especially by mites and aphids causing them to die off
Musana and her team are encouraging farmers to grow these vegetable species as a way to earn fast income and enhance nutrition. This is because they mature within a short period of time as well as very nutritious for these vegetables are rich in vitamins, iron and zinc
The indigenous vegetables are good to consume for the purpose of building body immunity against a number of diseases due to the vitamin and mineral content in them.
Most of the farmers that the scientists have reached out to are those who come to attend annual agricultural shows in Jinja and those who follow them up at NaCRRI in Namulonge.
Aside from encouraging farmers to grow the aforementioned vegetables, the team is also breeding exotic vegetables such as collard greens (sukuma wiki) and certain tomatoes species against bacterial wilt.
Robinah Naggayi Gafabusa, a breeder at Muzardi, who conducted surveys among farmers growing indigenous vegetables in Buikwe, Mpigi, Wakiso and Masaka districts, said these farmers have formed associations where they are promoting production of vegetable as an income earning enterprise.
Farmer groups in northern Uganda are concentrating on growing malakwang, a delicacy vegetable consumed by most people in the region.
She visited Nkokonjeru Seed Farmers Group, Kamengo Parish Farmers Research Group, Kitengessa Group and Luguzu Group.
Check moisture content
These were engaged in growing and selling leafy vegetables as well as seed mainly for nakkati with those in Masaka growing vegetables on large scale, ranging from one to two acres of land.
The farmer groups who are engaged in processing vegetable seed do it using the rudimentary method, where they wash it and put it to dry in the sun. Sometimes, they package it before it dries to the required moisture content.
Storage is not appropriate because most farmers store seeds in jerry cans, and others in polythene bags, which is likely to increase the moisture content.
Therefore, there is the need to provide these farmers with a kit for testing the moisture content as well as sensitising them on modern methods of seed processing.
But despite the challenges faced in seed processing, Nkokonjeru Farmers’ Group secured a contract to supply 100kg of African eggplant seed to Simlaw Seed Company at Shs20,000 per kg each planting season.
For planting, the scientists are encouraging the farmers to plant in rows with the recommended spacing to realise good yields as well as use fertiliser, and apply pesticides to control pest infestation.
Since there is the challenge of market availability for leafy vegetables because most farmers harvest in the same season, there are marketing opportunities provided by institutions like schools and hospitals, apart from the open market sales.
There is also need to sensitise farmers to grow vegetables during off-season employing irrigation techniques for good yields.