By Maina Waruru
A community research outreach project meant to translate research work by universities to solutions for challenges smallholder farmers in various regions of Africa has pioneered 43 different agricultural technologies previously out of reach of the farmers, teaching them valuable techniques for improved productivity and higher incomes.
Under the Community Action Research Project (CARP+), Technologies, Innovations and Management Practices (TIMPS) ranging from value addition of farm produce, to post-harvest and animal breeding techniques all previously out of reach for of the more than 42,000 farmers the project has directly engaged across Africa.
The TIMPs have been introduced as part of the US$27.1 million Transforming African Agricultural Universities to meaningfully contribute to Africa’s growth and development (TAGDev) project, an initiative of Uganda-based Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM), in partnership with MasterCard Foundation has been under implementation in Kenya, Uganda, Ghana, Botswana, Benin Zimbabwe, Sudan and Namibia among other countries since 2016.
“Since July 2016, RUFORUM and universities are implementing the eight-year programme TAGDeV programme aimed at transforming African agricultural universities and their graduates to better respond to development challenges through enhanced application of science, technology, business and innovation for rural agricultural transformation”, said Prof Anthony Egeru, Programme Manager-Training and Community Development at RUFORUM.
It has had immense benefits on households with numerous business opportunities for farmers through growth of productivity, value addition and improved sales thanks to new knowledge acquired through the outreach initiative, Prof Egeru who heads the TADev initiative added.
Farmers under the project, he notes, have been trained in better husbandry and are now organised into groups something that never existed in many places, making it easy to train them.
One such project is the pig CARP implemented in northern Uganda by Gulu University where it has introduced and taught farmers valuable techniques in a region where pig keeping has for a long time been rudimentary.
The ‘Enhancing Pig Production and Marketing for Smallholder Farmers in Northern Uganda’ sought to improve breeding, management and marketing of pigs for increased incomes and livelihoods of pig farmers.
It has engaged a total of 1200 farmers, over 500 of them directly and over 700 of them have benefitted indirectly according Prof Elly Ndyomugyenyi of Gulu University, its Principal Investigator.
One of its major successes has been the introduction of Artificial Insemination (AI) for pigs and pioneering of a technique to manage smell in pig shelters, a major problem in pig keeping.
“The project was conceived after the realisation that most farmers keep poor breeds, characterised by low growth rates, poor feed to meat conversion, few piglets produced, as well as poor quality pork with little lean meat and high fat content”, the professor disclosed. “The main proposition is that improving pig breeding, management and marketing will result in increased incomes and hence better livelihood for farmers,” he added.
It has successfully deployed the use of coconut water to preserve and extend the life of semen for use in AI in the animals.
“Artificial insemination facilitates the collection of boar semen from superior boars, to improve the genotypes and subsequently higher productivity is achieved,” the professor noted.
Natural mating using boar comes with a myriad of risks including disease transmission and inbreeding which leads to poor quality offspring. It exposes pigs to the deadly African Swine Fever (ASAF), through movement of boar from one place to another. In many instances a whole village can use one or two boars to mate sow, increasing the risk of transmitting diseases, the academic says.
Thanks to the project farmers have been trained and are now able to do the insemination, extraction of semen and preservation. the academician explains, this way they avoid the risk of contracting the dreaded disease.
According to the lecturer, the market for pigs and pork is readily available in Uganda, meaning farmers can pay for the service, knowing that they will not make any loss.
In Kenya, another CARP, Enhancing Access to High Quality Seed Potato for Improved Productivity and Income of Smallholder Farmers in Nakuru County, implemented by Egerton University has among other farming techniques and practices introduced tissue culture for potato farmers for the first time.
The technology is applied in the production of disease-free and high-yielding fruits and vegetables in East Africa, including bananas.
Using hydroponics and aeroponics technologies, it produces plantlets also known as apical root cuttings, and mini tubers (tiny potato seeds) which are clean and free of disease, its Principal Investigator Prof Anthony Kibe explains, adding that the technology speeds up the multiplication of material to facilitate distribution and large-scale planting.
“Tissue culture offers an excellent technique for the rapid propagation of seed potato, offering high yielding disease-free planting materials,” says the professor.
For potatoes tissue culture is mainly practiced by large commercial farms, seed companies and government research institutions mainly because of costs and complexity of the technique, adds Kibe, a professor of agronomy at the university.
This implies that certified seeds are relatively expensive and out of reach of the estimated 800,000 smallholder farmers engaged in potato farming in Kenya.
The country’s average potato yield per hectare is around ten tonnes per acre but there’s potential to increase to three times that amount with the use of disease-free seeds, he says.
In total there are 14 CARP+ plus projects which are under implementation by 12 African universities partnering with local Technical and Vocational Training Institutes (TVETs).
In West Africa, two CARPs at Benin’s University of Abomi Calavi introduced nine different innovations and technologies aimed at improving production and value addition of the Baobab tree and the pineapple fruits.
On its part Sudan’s University of Khartoum introduced five new technologies and innovations for its agroforestry and fruit trees value addition project, while in Uganda, Makerere University’s potato project had five new techniques and innovations for the crop’s value chain, for example.
According to Prof Egeru, African universities are under immense pressure to demonstrate their relevance to society.
“Of the three roles bestowed on universities-teaching, research and outreach, the latter has been the least applied with universities doing research with expectation that the extension arms in government would do the knowledge transfer. However, the universities need to have visibility and prove relevant to communities as people increasingly question their roles as facilitators of development,” Prof Egeru observes.
Overall he says, the rationale behind the TAGDev programme (under which the CARP initiative falls) among other things was to respond to challenges of how to transform smallholder agriculture through the use of largely available knowledge and technologies, and how to engage the under-utilised potential of universities to contribute to agricultural development through the training of quality, entrepreneurial and innovative graduates.