Good agronomic practices with sweetpotato are cause for celebration in Uganda

Everyone smiled, grasped hands, and shook their heads in wonder. The excitement at Michael Mugabi’s fields was palpable.  

Located in Gumpe Parish, Buyende district of Uganda, Mugabi and the SweetGAINS team from the International Potato Center (CIP) had gathered local politicians, farmers, seed producers and NGO’s to witness the incredible and abundant sweetpotato crop that covered the ground in bright orange and green. 

Visual evidence of the value of good agronomic practices. The sweetpotatoes on the left grown with good agronomic practices are nearly a third larger than those grown over the same area with traditional practices. (photo: N. Kwikiriza/CIP)

The planning for this moment started just four months earlier when CIP and the Ugandan National Research Organization (NARO) conducted a survey to trace for sweetpotato producers (both roots and vines) who were the most suppliers of roots and vines in markets so that they are trained    in some  n agronomic practices and in seed multiplication so that other farmers can buy clean seed from them. Mugabi signed up immediately and offered his field as a test patch and no one was surprised. In his community, other farmers have long looked to him for ideas on new technology.  

In Mugabi’s plot, farmers were asked to plant four sweetpotato varieties. Two of these were the most popular local market varieties (Muwulu Aduduma and Umbrella), and two new best-fit varieties that had been developed by CIP and NARO (Tanzania and NAROSPOT 1).  

Each of the four varieties were planted according to two methods: tradition and a new methods that emphasised  following good agronomic practices. Dr. Sam Namanda from CIP taught the new method to farmers, which included makingheaps  in the soil to knee height (60 cm) and planting only three vines per heap on all three sides of the heap (also known as the triangle method). Namanda also trained the farmers how to weed properly and select the best vines for planting. 

Four months later, at the field day with an audience looking on, the yield increases did not disappoint! 

  • Muwulu Aduduma (88% higher yield with improved agronomic practices)
  • Tanzania (125%)
  • Umbrella (128%)
  • NAROSPOT 1 (112%) 

The participants were noticeably impressed. Edisa Namukose said she taught her daughters to put as many as five vines per heap. “I wish I knew what I was doing wrong before. I will follow these rules in the future,” she laughed.  

This field day in Buyende, Uganda, was cause for celebration as participants inspect the fields to evaluate sweetpotato yields. (photo: N. Kwikiriza/CIP)

Stella Namazzi, a business development officer from NARO, smiled in response to Namukose’s comment and said hopefully, “Our region leads the country in sweetpotato production, but our yields have been declining. These agronomic practices can unlock our potential to build a robust supply to urban markets.”  

The field day concluded with songs and dances composed by the participating farmers In closing remarks, Srini Rajendran, a Regional Research Agricultural Economist with CIP, encouraged farmers to continue working on seed systems and buying seed from certified producers. District leaders pledged their support to prioritize sweetpotato in their strategic agriculture and economic plans to ensure sustained food and nutrition security  

By Norman Kwikiriza, Stella Namazzi and Sam Namanda 

This story was made possible by The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. SweetGAINS aims to modernize Africa’s current systems for sweetpotato breeding and early generation seed production.