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Uganda: Farmers switch from local to improved varieties of cassava

Christine Oloi is passionate about growing cassava. Before travelling to her shop in Lira town every morning, she tends to her cassava garden, located about one kilometre from her home.

The 33-year-old mother of three lives in Amuca parish in Uganda’s Lira District. She grows a popular local variety of cassava known as Bao. She used to grow Ajude and Olepo, but these local varieties are difficult to find because they have been decimated by cassava mosaic disease. And so she is considering planting improved varieties.

Mrs. Oloi explains: “I am interested in planting these local varieties, but there is a challenge of getting planting materials that are free from cassava mosaic disease. [So] I plan to grow an improved variety of cassava.”

In August 2016, Mrs. Oloi received planting materials from a relative in a nearby district. But she was disappointed with the Bao she received because it was attacked by cassava mosaic disease. She explains, “When I planted Bao, most of the plants were attacked by cassava mosaic disease and I lost up to 200,000 shillings [$55 US].”

Cassava production in Uganda decreased after a 1988 outbreak of cassava mosaic disease, which virtually eliminated cassava in many parts of the country.

Turyagyenda Laban Frank is the director of Ngetta Zonal Agricultural Research and Development Institute. He explains that cassava mosaic disease is transmitted by whiteflies and that the disease still poses a big threat to cassava farmers, particularly those who use local varieties.

He says, “When the plant is attacked, it has stunted [growth] and … the more severe the symptoms, the lower the yield.” The disease can reduce yields by up to 80%.

To control the disease, Mr. Frank advises farmers to get cassava cuttings from a garden with no history of the disease. Farmers in Uganda can also avoid the disease by obtaining cuttings from certified agro-input dealers.

Mr. Frank recommends that farmers always use improved varieties such as NASE 2, NASE 3, NASE 14, NASE 19, NAROCAS 1, and NAROCAS 2, which are resistant to cassava mosaic disease. He adds,  “The local varieties such as Bao can be planted, but it is important for farmers to make sure they are free from disease such as cassava mosaic disease.”

Anna Okeng farms in Kulu Ingatu village, in Uganda’s Oyam District. She grows improved cassava varieties and has enjoyed the benefits. The 45-year-old says, “This season I have planted one hectare of NASE 14 because it is resistant to cassava mosaic disease.”

Mrs. Okeng is happy to grow improved varieties, which she usually gets from fellow farmers in her neighbourhood. She says cassava farming has helped her pay school fees for her children.

Improved cassava varieties are giving Mrs. Okeng and many other Ugandan farmers confidence that they will get a good harvest.

This story was created with the support of CABI Plantwise through Farm Radio Trust.

Photo: Turyagyenda Laban Frank, director of Ngetta Zonal Agricultural Research and Development Institute