Field days show Ugandan farmers hope in disease-resistant varieties
By Allison Floyd
University of Georgia, Peanut & Mycotoxin Innovation Lab
Planting an unimproved variety of peanut in Uganda was a recipe for disaster this year. Groundnut rosette disease (GRD), an aphid-borne virus that causes mottling and affects much of sub-Saharan Africa, took 80% to 100% of the yield in some fields planted with a traditional variety.
The difficult season made farmers even more interested in two recent field-day events held in Uganda, where they could see the results coming from fields planted with improved varieties resistant to GRD.
Farmers check out peanut-growing guides at one of two recent Field Day trainings in Uganda.
One woman, a farmer named Adong Christine borrowed $7,000 from a bank and planted 20 acres with a local variety. At the end of the season, she harvested just two bags of peanuts (from a potential 400 bags) and could not repay the loan.
“There had been an outcry of big losses as most of the capital were borrowed from loan institutions. This event showcasing improved groundnut varieties therefore was timely as it restored hopes and enhanced adoption,” organizers said.
David Okello, the head of Uganda's national groundnut research program and a leading scientist on PMIL’s breeding project, is behind many of the varieties. Based at the National Semi-Arid Resources Research Institute (NaSARRI) in Serere District, Okello works to create varieties that are high yielding, resistant to drought and GRD, and to educate farmers about practices that will give them more success with their peanut crop.
Peanuts are a traditional crop in Uganda and much of sub-Saharan Africa, are high-protein and valuable as a cash crop. Still, GRD is a persistent problem that stunts the growth of otherwise healthy plants and can destroy a crop if the disease strikes early enough in the season before flowering.
A woman farmer picks up some bags of seed at Field Days in the Nwoya District of Uganda. At the end of a particularly bad season for disease, many farmers made the investment to buy small bags of improved seed.
At one of two field days, 61 farmers, researchers and representatives of local government visited a 5.6-acre plot planted with three varieties bred for their resistance to GRD and leaf-spot, Serenut 9T (Aber), Serenut 14R and Serenut 5R. While participants could see for themselves the success of the varieties, farmers in the Loyo Kwo group, who are using the new varieties, explained their agronomic practices, where they get seed and how NaSARRI trainings helped improve their results.
“Heart breaking and sad testimonies came from the farmers growing local varieties,” Okello said. “The Loyo Kwo group members, on the other hand, were boasting of bumper harvests, higher income and improved livelihoods that they are experiencing from adopting the improved groundnut varieties,” Okello said
Farmers were able to buy small packs of .5 kg to 3 kg., and the NaSARRI team delivered 45 kgs of Serenut 8R (Achieng), a large-seeded red variety that had been previously promised.
In a second field day, farmers spent part of a religious holiday – the Assumption of the Virgin Mary to Heaven – visiting test plots, learning about improved production practices and visiting a farm where the owner planted Serenut 5R and Serenut 11T alongside the local Red Beauty variety.
The farmer, Leonora Okidi, planted 2 of her 5 acres with an improved variety, and the other 3 acres with the local variety. She abandoned the local variety after the first weeding since most of the plants had been severely attacked by the rosette virus.
In a good year, she is able to feed and educate her 11 own children and support 25 others from her groundnut operation, which is part of a women-led group called Pur Lonyo or “Farming is Wealth,” she said.
Okidi first connected with Okello through her son, who he mentored in his diploma and bachelor’s degree studies and still supervises in his current master’s degree studies. She offered land to host demonstration plots and participatory variety trials and co-funded the operations using her family labour.
“The superiority of our improved lines and varieties over her local varieties caught her attention and (Okidi) quickly adopted these improved varieties and has become a model research farmer in the village,” Okello said. “Through this effort our improved varieties adoption rates has increased and we are closely working with her women group to upscale these successes, improve their livelihoods and increase varieties adoption.”
– Published Sept. 1, 2017