Over the last 5 years, cocoa has been steadily cementing its place among Uganda’s cash crops. In 2021, cocoa was the third most exported commodity netting $ 106 million in export revenues. For Ugandan farmers venturing into cocoa growing, the cash crop is turning out to be a vital source of income and livelihood.
Cocoa was introduced in Mayuge in 1962. The last 15 years have seen an increase in efforts by the public and private sectors to promote the growing of cash crops more widely. As a result, many farmers are now opting to grow it to diversify their income or out of frustration because of persistently low prices of sugarcane, which is the dominant cash crop and a major source of livelihood in the district.
On average, a typical cocoa farm measures 0.5 – 1 acre and is capable of an annual yield worth $900 - $1,800. However, farmers with smaller cocoa gardens are more likely to devote entire plots of arable land to cocoa at the expense of growing food crops, hence heightening the risk of food insecurity among cocoa-growing households.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), food crop diversification as a strategy is a premise for building climate resilience among resource-stricken households.
Since 2019, Swisscontact in collaboration with Mayuge district local government and Ikulwe Satellite Research Station (part of Buganyana Zonal Agricultural Research & Development Institute) has supported interventions to mitigate food insecurity among cocoa farmers. This has enabled smallholder cocoa farmers at risk of food insecurity to access quality planting materials of improved sweet potato varieties that are nutritious and quick maturing. In addition, farmers were supported to access extension and advisory support including integrated soil management, and land use planning skills.
Through this partnership, Swisscontact promoted the adoption and multiplication of the orange flesh sweet potatoes (NAROSPOT 1 and 8), which had previously been unknown among farmers due to a lack of information and strategy to multiply enough quality planting materials to ensure widespread adoption.
The NAROSPOT varieties which were supplied by Ikulwe Satellite Research Station boast enhanced resistance to sweet potatoes weevils and virus disease, in addition to being quick maturing and packed with essential nutrients. These traits make the variety less prone to crop failures induced by adverse weather variations, hence mitigating the risks of food insecurity.
By the end of 2021, over 480 targeted beneficiaries (74% women) had been supported to access planting materials resulting in the cultivation of over 120 acres of orange sweet potatoes. An additional 126 farmers who were not part of the target group accessed the high-quality planting materials.
Mwabaza James and Naigaga Loy, a married couple living in Namadii south, Malongo in Mayuge district were among the very first beneficiaries of Swisscontact’s food security intervention. The duo said that before the intervention, only local varieties of staple foods (sweet potato and cassava) were grown. However, these varieties took more than 4 months before they could be harvested and were prone to failure during prolonged droughts. During the long wait, families like James and Joy spend their savings on food while others go without or are forced to reduce their daily food intake. Owing to the short maturation of the improved variety, in just 2 months the couple saw their first harvest.
According to Emmanuel Kawuzi, Agriculture officer in Mayuge district, the common local varieties are less resistant to adverse conditions or pests and are also less nutritious: “These local varieties of sweet potatoes are slow maturing and don't have sufficient nutrients compared with the improved varieties”. The intervention came at a time when the district authority was also keen on addressing the issue of food insecurity. “The intervention was an eye-opener for the district authorities who were grappling with the issue of food insecurity among farmers that had transitioned into growing cocoa”.
James and Loy were among the farmers first selected in 2020 to share 28 bags of NAROSPOT planting materials and were encouraged to later redistribute planting materials in their communities. Owing to the short maturation of the improved variety, in just 2 months the couple saw their first harvest.
James says that by the second season they had multiplied enough planting materials, which they distributed to 15 farmers in that year and an additional 25 farmers in 2021. Thanks to their generosity and commitment, more households are now growing nutritious and fast-maturing orange sweet potatoes. “Right now almost all the households in my village are growing the orange flesh sweet potatoes,” said James. “We give planting materials to all farmers, not just cocoa farmers,” added Joy.
The food security intervention among cocoa farmers is demonstrating that crop diversification can be an effective strategy to mitigate the risks of food insecurity while enhancing climate change resilience among smallholder farmers whose main livelihood is dependent on cash crops. Furthermore, there is potential to unlock other income diversification options for example by developing a planting material distribution model which enables farmers to sell planting materials multiplied.
This project is part of the Swisscontact Development Programme, which is co-financed by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), Federal Department of Foreign Affairs FDFA.