By Prossy Nandudu and Joshua Kato
“I want a kilogramme of groundnut paste,” the young boy told the shopkeeper in Kisaasi, Kampala.
He had been given sh5,000. “This money is not enough. It should be sh8,000,” the shopkeeper told the boy.
When the boy went back to his father, he was surprised. Although groundnuts are a highly consumed delicacy, production is far lower than the demand.
Groundnut is the second most widely grown legume in Uganda, after beans, according to statistics from the Ministry of Agriculture Animal Industry and Fisheries.
There has been a substantial increase in the growing of groundnut as both a food and cash crop, mainly because of increased awareness of its value as a source of protein (23–25% content) and oil (45–52% content).
However, yields remain low compared to national demand.
According to the National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS), farmers get an average 290kg per acre of dry seed against a possible 1,200 to 1,400kg.
Groundnuts are predominantly cultivated by smallholder farmers on the average of 0.5-1 acre of land for food security.
Although north and eastern Uganda are traditionally growing areas of the groundnuts, production has spread to the western part of the country, especially in areas around Rwenzori, as well as the central region.
According to the agriculture ministry, Uganda needs at least 300,000 tonnes of groundnuts, against the production of 160,000 tonnes.
This is why Uganda depends on supplies from countries such as Tanzania, yet the country has got good soils to grow the groundnuts.
Well-managed plots and using the right varieties can yield 1-1.4 tonnes per acre or more and the market for them is abundant.
In 2020, a kilogramme went for sh4,500 in most urban shops.
At the moment, a kilogramme goes for sh7,000. Groundnut paste goes for sh8,000.
“Production has been low in the last two years that most of the stock we have comes from Tanzania and Malawi,” Gerald Muwanga, a dealer says.
To produce an acre of good quality groundnuts on a commercial scale, the average investment is about sh1.5m.
At a yield of at least 500kg using minimal inputs, the average earnings are sh3.5m. Most varieties mature in four months.
Why the low production?
Dr Michael Ugen, the director of National Semi Arid Resources Research Institute (NaSARRI) — the institute charged with groundnut improvement and early generation seeds production — attributed the low production to several factors, including continuous planting of traditional seed, pests and diseases coupled with the growing demand for groundnuts.
He said there are three varieties of groundnuts grown in Uganda that they have been improving from the 1960s.
These include the small-seeded Spanish with a short maturity period; Virginia, which are large seeded and late maturing groundnuts and Valencia, which are early-maturing with 3-5 seeds per pod).
“We have been working on groundnuts for a long time, for example, red beauty which is small seeded, grows fast and is preferred most, was developed in the 1960s. It has lost resistance to pests and diseases and is now easily attacked by the rosette virus disease,” Ugen says.
Another production constraint, he adds, is climate change, where both too much rain and drought affect production.
“Farmers are now experiencing either too much rain, which leads to the rotting of the pods in gardens and drought that affects the filling up of pods. For long, we didn’t have problems with climate change, so, everything seems to have an impact on groundnut production today,” Ugen adds.
Other challenges include aflatoxins, that attack the groundnuts right from the gardens all the way to storage, further reducing the supply on the market.
Groundnut is predominantly marketed in form of unshelled pods, the seed for propagation, groundnut powder, paste and shelled seeds.
Plans to increase seed
In order to increase the uptake of the new varieties, Ugen says NaSARRI has several strategies in place.
One of the strategies is working with farmer groups in seed multiplication to increase the production and also make them available for farmers.
“Through our research, we found out that 71% of the groundnuts seed multiplication is informal — farmer to farmer, while 29% is got from research or seed companies,” Ugen says.
Involving local farmers
Local seed businesses are joining the move to spread new groundnut varieties.
One such group is the Northern Uganda Local Seed Growers Association based in Amwoma sub-county Dokolo district. Angelus Ochen, the chairperson of the group, says they get foundation seed from NaSARRI, which they multiply among members.
The group is supervised by researchers and inspectors/extension workers from the agriculture ministry and officials from the National Seed Certification department.
“Whenever there is a new variety development in response to the market needs, they contact us, from the beginning of their research, through field trials until the seed is ready for to be released,” Ochen says.
“We give them feedback on the performance of the groundnuts and they also demonstrate to us in our farm the right spacing, field management and when to harvest, dry and store such that we produce the right seed,” he adds.
Of the 150 members in Ochen’s group, only 30 are engaged in seed production. To produce seed, each member must have at least one acre.
From each acre, a member is expected to produce at least 15 bags of 100kg at harvest, Ochen adds. To harvest 15 bags of groundnuts from one acre, a farmer needs 42kg of unshelled groundnuts or 23kg of already shelled groundnuts.
Ochen, who grows groundnuts on five acres every season, adds that the group chose seed production, after realising that the community had no clear source of seed.
He adds that one bag of the groundnuts goes for sh300,000.
Maintaining seed quality
Ochen says the groundnut seed garden is inspected before planting takes place.
The inspection is done by the district agricultural officer, the agriculture ministry and the seed inspectorate.
When the groundnut seeds are produced, samples are taken to the laboratory and given a germination test.
“Unfortunately, they delay to get us results and yet, people want to buy the seed. A farmer may miss out on the money as you wait for the result. Sometimes, when tested and a WHY sample is passed, we have to wait for the green label, because our seed is termed as quality,” Ochen adds.
Through schools, Ugen says the institute has demonstration gardens on station to show learners the new varieties and how to plant them.
Some students receive seeds to take to their parents.
“In some programmes, we have demonstration gardens in schools, so that these children learn more about the technologies and take the information back to their parents. So, the parent will look out for more information about a technology and, hopefully, embrace it,” Ugen adds.
Market segmentation is another strategy that NaSARRI is pursuing.
“Northern and eastern parts of Uganda prefer tan skinned nuts, whereas red skinned ones are preferred in central, western and southern region,” Ugen says.
After knowing the market, the buyers will identify the types of seed needed, quantities, traits and maturity period for breeding to take place.
Susan Okeny, a peanut producer, hopes that the strategies can increase the crop’s production, given the poor supply.
“There is scarcity of the grains in the markets. We have tried Teso and Acholi sub-regions. They don’t produce what the population demands in the right volumes. I have discovered that what is sustaining the groundnut market now are imports from Malawi, Zimbabwe and Congo. Otherwise, if it was just Uganda, a kilogramme would be going for not less than sh20,000,” Ronald Alele from Ivory Organics, a company that deals in nut paste, says the market potential of value-added groundnuts exists in Uganda and in the region.
He, however, adds that the mechanical nature of their production chain needs to be improved and implores investments support in mechanisation.
Responding to challenges
Dr Michael Ugen, the director of NaSARRI, says they have so far developed 24 varieties with the most recent ones being serenut 1 to 14 and naronuts 1-2 series.
He adds that the new varieties are faced with varied agro-ecological zone, land tenure systems, diverse market preferences and climate change, which calls for continuous research.
“For areas prone to drought, we breed for drought resistance; where there are floods, we breed varieties that don’t take long, withstand water logging in addition to breeding for resistance to pests and diseases and tolerance,” Ugen says.
He, however, adds that when addressing the demand, breeding is done to maintain the original traits preferred by consumers, especially those varieties that are no longer resistant to pests and diseases.
“That is why if people are interested in the red colour, we maintain that to produce varieties that meet consumer demands and could be resistant to diseases, are high yielding and have good taste.”
The serenut series released so far include those with a higher oil content needed in the production of peanut butter and therapeutic foods.
They are leaf miner and aflatoxin resistant and are used in the confectionery industry.
The groundnuts have early to medium maturity periods, are resistant to groundnut rosette and are high yielding, Ugen adds.