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Developing markets for local food varieties in Uganda and Kenya

Cassava is a staple food crop across much of East Africa, and is especially important to provide food during the ‘hungry season’. In the Nakasongola District of Uganda, local varieties had been so badly affected by the combination of drought and Cassava Mosaic Virus (CMV) that the region had become a perennial recipient of emergency food aid. 

To exit this cycle of dependence on food aid, 500 farmers started replicating a range of CMV-resistant varieties, obtained from a local research station. Through selective breeding, they managed to increase their yield six-fold, and as a result expanded the average area they planted with cassava almost 10-fold. While this increased food security, there was a real threat that local market prices would collapse and thus undermine their income.

To prevent this from happening, two new processing facilities were set up in the area producing chipped cassava and cassava flour which were lobbied for by the Nakasongola District Farmers Association. While these have been slow to come to full capacity, they currently purchase around a quarter of farm output and offer farmers the opportunity to add value on their farms by offering higher prices for washed and peeled tubers.  A recent evaluation has shown that for every dollar invested by the farmers, they have received 19 dollars in return.

In Kenya, farmers in a relatively ‘high potential’ area close to Nairobi switched from producing cut-flowers and conventional vegetables to traditional varieties of leafy vegetables, which can be quickly prepared and have a high nutritional value.  These are short-cycle crops (that can be cut more than once in their growth cycle) that are grown on small irrigated beds.  To provide a regular supply to supermarkets in Nairobi, farmers stagger planting. The contracts with Uchumi and Nakumatt supermarkets in Kenya have been negotiated by the partner organisation Farm Concern International. A bunch of vegetable leaves retails at Ksh. 20.00 while the farmer is paid Ksh. 10.00. To address the issue of farmers not being able to wait 60 working days to be paid for their produce the organisation has set up a system where farmer groups are paid on delivery and these funds are recovered when the supermarket settles the accounts. Farmers started off by planting an average of only 0.1 acres with these crops - now most have almost trebled the amount of land under cultivation with indigenous vegetables, with an average gross margin per acre of $5,274, compared to $1,213 for the conventional produce they grew before.  They have managed to reduce their costs partly by using less fertilisers and pesticides, as indigenous vegetable varieties are less susceptible to pests and diseases than conventional crops.

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