We funded the National Agricultural Research Organisation to improve bean yields in Uganda by involving farmers in the selection, demonstration and distribution of new varieties, and forming farmers’ associations to package, market and sell seed
Beans provide 45% of total protein and 25% of total calorie intake in Uganda and are a vital source of income for many families. However, yields have been declining due to diseases, pests and low soil fertility. High-yielding varieties have been developed by breeders, but these have often not reached farming communities as the crop is unprofitable for private seed companies and public services have been underfunded and under-resourced. Of the improved varieties that have been disseminated, many have been rejected by farmers due to their incompatibility with local farming systems plus distinct local preferences over taste and cooking qualities.
In 1997 Gatsby helped the National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO) to meet this challenge by funding a project in Uganda that ensured farmer involvement in the selection and demonstration of new varieties, accelerated the multiplication and distribution of improved seed, and trained farmers and extension workers in improved crop management techniques. Twelve promising new Andean varieties developed by the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture in Colombia were distributed to farmers in different locations across four target districts. Farmers helped researchers evaluate performance and used their local knowledge to gauge whether the varieties were likely to be accepted within the area.
Successful varieties were disseminated more widely using a seed-loan system. Farmers were given training on the most effective ways to manage their crop, including post-harvest, and helped to market and sell the seed to other farmers in the community. Over a five year period the project distributed 10,000 kg of improved seed to more than 2,000 farmers, with 60-80% of farmers in the target districts growing improved varieties. Yields increased fourfold, from 500 kg/ha to 2,000 kg/ha.
In the second stage of the project, NARO helped farmers combine into 12 associations to package, market and sell seed collectively, thus increasing returns to individual members. From 2002-06 the associations produced 60,000 kg of improved seed in total. NARO then supported the associations in efforts to target profitable export markets, particularly in South Africa.