KABALE: In the hilly district of Kabale in Western Uganda, potatoes are a staple crop that has fed the local population for generations.
Charles Byarugaba, a 52-year-old farmer from Makanga village, has been growing Irish potatoes for his entire life.
For better farm yields, Byaruhanga plants quality seeds supplied by the various seed companies in Uganda and sometimes the government through the Operation Wealth Creation (OWC) program.
However, in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the world and lockdowns were put in place limiting movement, Byarugaba and fellow farmers found themselves short of seeds.
Charles Byarugaba, 52 on his farm in Makanga village, Kabale District.
The seed companies could not move the seeds to the farmers yet the planting season was on.
“We were completely cut off, no seeds were coming to us,” Byarugaba says. Some farmers decided to replant the potatoes but this would not give good yields and susceptible to diseases.
“With lockdowns and movement restrictions in place, seed companies were unable to transport seeds to my town. The pandemic also made it difficult for me to purchase seeds because of the financial constraints,” Byarugaba says.
The COVID-19 pandemic had a significant impact on the seed sector in Uganda. With the restrictions on movement and social distancing measures in place, farmers faced delays in accessing quality seeds, fertilizers, and other agricultural inputs. These delays not only affect the timely planting of crops but also lead to reduced crop yields and income for the farmers.
Charles Byarugaba display potatoes.
The disruptions in transportation and market access made it difficult for farmers to sell their produce, leading to post-harvest losses and reduced income. This, in turn, affects the demand for seeds and other agricultural inputs, creating a ripple effect throughout the seed sector.
The pandemic disrupted supply chains and slowed down the movement of goods, making it difficult for seed companies to import and export seeds and other inputs.
This reduced availability and affordability of quality seeds potentially leading to a decline in crop yields and increased food insecurity for consumers.
The shortage of seeds was an eye opener to Byarugaba who decided to start producing potato seed for himself and fellow farmers.
“We were all stuck and there was no new seed coming in. I realized that the only way to get seed was to produce it by ourselves. I decided to start producing seed for my people,” Byarugaba said.
He says seed potatoes are planting materials that are free of pests and diseases, and are essential to getting good yields.
In Kabale, the production of quality clean seed potato that is free of pests and diseases starts at the Kacwekano Zonal Agricultural Research and Development Institute (KAZARDI).
KAZARDI is government of Uganda research center where several teachnologies like seeds are developed and skills transferred to farmers.
“I went to the research center where I was trained and advised to hire a seed expert so that I can be accredited. After the training, I constructed screen house to produce clean seed,” Byarugaba says.
At the institute small plantlets are grown in test tubes and later transplanted in clean soil in a screen house to produce small tubers called mini-tubers.
Byarugaba explained that they get mini-tubers from the research institute and transfer them to a new garden where they multiply to produce pre-basic seed that is planted in another season to produce foundation/basic seed.
It is the basic seed that the seed producers sell to farmers to grow more seed potato that is made available for potato farmers.
“The seeds we produce are free of diseases like wilt so they grow well and give good yields. We mainly supply the seed through Operation Wealth Creation which distributes it to farmers,” Byarugaba said.
Operation Wealth Creation (OWC) is government program through which government of Uganda purchases inputs from accredited local farmers and distributes to smallholder farmers.
“After like four months our seed was accredited to be of quality by the ministry of Agriculture, we started supplying OWC) who reached out to us.
With access to more affordable, clean potato seed, the common practice of recycling potatoes from crop to crop and the subsequent cycle of disease and poor yields will be broken.
This will lead to an increase in yields, and the quality of potatoes produced will be better.
“The demand is very high; we cannot meet it. People are looking for quality seed everywhere,” Byarugaba added.
He explains that he has captured a big market of seed supply in the region and is earning reasonable income from it.
“I’m able to raise money to send my children to better schools, and I’m now able to expand my production so that famers are not suffering with seed,” Byarugaba says.
Byarugaba’s capacity to produce seed potatoes has grown, now they are able to supply people as far as Rwanda.
“The demand is very high and we cannot meet it. People are looking for quality seed everywhere,” Bayrugaba says.
Potato sector growth is held back by the small and highly fragmented potato seed industry, with only 34% of national demand for seed potato met.
Byarugaba produces varieties like Victoria, Nakpot1, Nakpot2, Nakpot3, Nakpot4, Nakpot5, Kapchot1 and Kapchot2 and Rwanume.
Judith Turyahikayo explains that Byarugaba has helped farmers in Kabale with affordable seed.
“We love growing potatoes. It is what feeds us, gives us money and all our living depend on this crop” Turyahikayo says.
Seed potato production offers farmers an alternative reliable income source as demand for clean seed in the country is growing.
This publication was produced with the financial support of the European Union. Its contents are the sole responsibility of Araali Mutegeki and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.