Written by Naume Kalinaki & Julius Engwedu
Farmer Field School (FFS) is a participatory learning approach that brings together small-scale farmers to overcome bottlenecks through sustainable agriculture. The FFS approach allows for experimental learning, improving observation and cognitive skills, and better decision-making by local communities, as well as tapping on extension resources within these areas. This, in turn, improves capacity building for efficient, sustainable, and inclusive production systems.
One of the major challenges faced by small-scale farmers is the lack of quality seed and the increasing impacts of climate change such as prolonged dry spell, floods, pests and diseases among others. Many of these can be addressed through Participatory Plant Breeding (PPB), however, this is always associated with crop breeders and researchers, and ministerial bodies. Since 2019, ESAFF Uganda has supported 31 FFS in Apac, Adjumani and Amuria districts to engage in participatory plant breeding and these work along with crop breeders. The FFS are working on 6 different crops including groundnuts, soya beans, rice, cassava, millet and beans and over 30 crop varieties to evaluate different attributes of the varieties such as drought tolerance, pest and disease tolerance, yield, maturity period and adaptation of the varieties to the different Agroecological zones. At the end of every season, these are able to identify crop varieties that best suit their community needs. Successful varieties are later tested on different plots, multiplied and availed to the communities.
While doing Farmer Field schools on PPB, small-scale farmers adopt two breeding methods that is to say Participatory Variety Selection (PVS) and Participatory Variety Enhancement (PVE). Under PVS farmers evaluate the performance of several varieties of a selected crop against their set objectives over two seasons and they select the best performing variety in accordance to their objectives that may include, drought tolerance, short maturity period, pest and disease resistant among others. Under Participatory Variety Enhancement (PVE), farmers restore the lost traits of their local varieties which were highly valued in the community but their performance could have dropped due to some natural factors like prolonged dry spells, floods, etc. While in the field, Farmers select the best performing plants that meet their objectives. The selected plants provide the seed for the following season; this selection is done for at least 3 seasons where uniformity of the variety is believed to be attained.
This new season runs from mid-March to June. In this season, 12FFS will be conducting PVE on crops like maize particularly eberenge variety, groundnuts including Obino. While 19 FFS will be conducting PVS in crops like cassava, rice, groundnuts and millet. For all FSS doing PVS, this will be their last season to confirm their breeding objectives. Some FFS like Ekeunos, cutuk and Acautu, Awinya, Fudha, Boroli, among others are in the last season to confirm their objectives.
“We are proud because we succeeded in restoring the yield of our groundnut variety Obino which is a darling to us because of its importance in providing food, ability to generate income and the cultural heritage attributed to it since it was always given to newly marrieds as a startup gift. However, Obino lost some of its traits along the way, which made people abandon it.’’ Grace Alebo MAFA FFS from Amuria district.
For over 30 years, Obino was believed to be the pride of Teso because of its great taste, high yield and oil content among others. Nevertheless, with the changing climate, some of these traits were lost and this forced the community to adopt other groundnut varieties. After successfully restoring the lost traits like short maturity from 130 days to 90 days, high yield among others, the group was able to test Obino in different plots and are ready to multiply the seeds and make it available to the communities. FFS like Eceruku, Rwofhed, Kadabara, in Adjumani district are using this season to conduct field tests for their successful varieties. These field tests will allow small-scale farmers to assess the performance of these varieties when subjected to different soil textures and environments.
Last year, ESAFF Uganda published the Seed Stories collected from different small-scale farmers in Apac, Amuria, Omoro and Adjumani districts to highlight the impact of Farmer managed Seed System in Uganda. Here farmers share their experiences on participatory plant breeding, community seed banks among others. Access a copy here: https://shorturl.at/CHSV8
Being the custodians of seed, the successes of the FFS have improved the pride of women especially when different people recognize their efforts. These continually share their success with other community members with a belief that these varieties will be reembraced in the communities. FFS on participatory plant breeding strive towards addressing the seed challenges within the communities by availing good quality seeds that best suit the community needs.