Uganda selected as focus for project on root crops, bananas

Bananas are one of the widely grown crops and a main source of income in Uganda. A regional project is developing technologies to enable farmers who grow such crops to enjoy the benefits of value addition such as better markets and higher incomes.

Uganda is hosting a $4m (Shs11.4b) project that will expand the utilisation of roots, tubers and bananas and reduce their post harvest losses.

The three-year European Union (EU) funded project is implemented by the CGIAR Research Programme on Roots, Tubers and Bananas. It focus on cassava, bananas, sweet potatoes and Irish potatoes.

Diego Naziri, a post-harvest specialist at the International Potato Centre (CIP) in Uganda and project leader, said they will improve food security and income generation through better post harvest management and expanded use of roots, tubers and bananas.

Focal point
The project bases on post-harvest and processing technologies, extension advice, and capacity development. Although the project initially focuses on Uganda, it is only an appropriate focal point for the East African Community (EAC).

This is because there are all groups of roots, tubers and bananas in Uganda and they contribute significantly to smallholder welfare and rural and urban diets. But it is expected that the other EAC member countries will benefit from the technologies and models created in Uganda.

Testing technologies
The project will improve utilisation of sweet potato vines, roots and peels as pig feeds in Uganda. Pig farmers say feeding is their biggest constraint due to seasonality, poor quality feeds and limited knowledge on supplementation strategies. Yet research shows that Uganda ranks number one, in East Africa, in pork per capita consumption.

The feeding costs for pigs represent about 70 per cent of the variable costs in smallholder farms.

So, simple silage making technologies that are easy and affordable for the conservation and use of sweet potato roots and vines will help to reduce wastage of sweet potato residues, and extend their use to periods of feed scarcity.

“Silage making will allow women and youth to reduce the time for sourcing feeds for their animals and reduce on the use of fuel like firewood for cooking them,” said Daniel Pezo, project leader, small holder pig value chains development, at the International Livestock Research Institute, Uganda

Consumed widely
Pezo added that the technology will also help to prevent wastage of valuable feed resources and will benefit mainly women and the youth since they are mostly responsible for pig management at a household level. The smallholder pig sector is made up of 1.1 million households rearing 3.5 million pigs.

The project also focuses on cassava, the second most important staple, grown by 60 per cent of the farming population. It is also consumed widely as a snack, a main meal, and it is also a food security crop.

But smallholder farmers and retailers marketing fresh cassava roots are constrained by its rapid perishability. This leaves a very short marketing period of 48 hours and economic losses of up to 90 per cent of its initial market value.

Try marketing models
So, two existing technologies to prolong the shelf life of fresh cassava roots will be tested. It will use waxing technologies and high relative humidity storage.

Here, healthy cassava roots are dipped in a household bleach, packed in polyethylene bags and maintained at high humidity in a cool environment. “These technologies will be investigated for their effectiveness in extending the shelf-life of cassava,” said Moses Matovu, a research scientist at National Agricultural Research Organisation.

Matovu says they will also try out marketing models through the open market and super markets for cassava to improve farmers incomes.

Respond to needs
Another crop for the project is banana, a major source of food for 60 per cent and income generator for 35 per cent of people in Uganda.

Particularly, the cooking banana, has a value chain characterised by a high risk of post-harvest losses. This is due to the short green life and a marketing chain with a large number of middlemen.

The project will research on cooking bananas to reduce post-harvest losses through promotion of varieties with intrinsic longer shelf life and better post-harvest handling properties.

It will try new technologies; the weight-based pricing system that responds to producer needs and consumer preferences for smaller units of bananas, which factors in increasing urbanisation, smaller household sizes and higher rates of women employment.

“It will offer product differentiation, promoting peeled and preserved bananas and evaluating the temperature and humidity regimes required for their proper storage,” said Enoch Kikulwe, an associate scientist, Biodiversity International.

He said the business component lays out opportunities for upgrading storage, transport, and marketing, with the final aim to increase farmers’ margins and to add value. They will also study an alternative sucker selection regime that allows to smooth out production over the year.

This is with the hypothesis that staggered harvest helps to avoid price drops and to tap into off-season price premiums. This technique will be promoted through in-field training in order to be able to identify which sucker to remove or leave to even-out production.

Strengthen opportunities
Monica Parker, a scientist at CIP, says they would assess post-harvest innovations and gender-sensitive approaches to enable value chain actors strengthen opportunities and access other outlets besides those available for Irish potatoes.

However, Naziri cautioned that the project will only promote technologies and products after testing them and proving that they are market driven and competitive.

Sarah Mayanja a research associate, value chains and agricultural marketing, CIP, said the project will use a value chain analysis to inform the basis to identify areas for improvement for post harvest losses, technologies and market linkages.

The value chain analysis maps out the chain of a specific product spanning its production to post harvest activities, to marketing its products, along with the existing and potential business development services along the chain.

Mayanja said they will also undertake post harvest loss assessment related to physical damage like in transport, rotting; or weight loss due to moisture loss during transport, storage; or quality loss reflected in lower prices or nutritional loss through the chain.

Expanding use
She said this will enable them to select the varieties of roots, tubers and bananas with higher, more stable yields, added value, a strong demand pull, but the main emphasis here will be to help the ‘producers improve the agenda while it is being implemented.’

For roots, tubers and bananas to continue to move from subsistence to commercial systems, product development, processing technologies, and markets need to be expanded and strengthened, said Naziri.

There is considerable scope for repositioning roots, tubers and bananas as added-value cash crops through expanding their use for processing and sales of preferred varieties to satisfy emerging markets.