By Sam Elolu
Cassava is a key staple in Uganda and is increasingly gaining popularity as an income generating crop. The Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture has engaged university-based research teams to generate innovations and solutions to constraints along the cassava value chain. This storyline features one of the graduate students working with a research team at Gulu University that is focusing on improving the protein and micro-nutrient content of gari (cassava meal) for primary school feeding in North and North Eastern Uganda. It also addresses value addition in cassava as both a food crop and income generating crop.
As a graduate student, my thesis research is based on the understanding that nutrition is key for the proper growth and development of children and pre-requisite for achievement of full human potential. To secure food security and nutritional sufficiency, there are many opportunities and avenues for fortification of staple crops such cassava. Recognising the importance of child nutrition, the Government of Uganda is encouraging provision of school meals (including breakfast for primary school pupils). The use of local foods to provide nutritious and affordable meals for the economically disadvantaged regions of the country is therefore a key intervention that will contribute to the increased school attendance, better nutrition and educational achievement.
The research seeks to optimise the formulation of gari using soy beans and mukene (silver fish) to improve its protein and micronutrient content, assess the acceptability of the nutritionally improved product among primary school children, and test the effect of fortification on the keeping quality of gari.
I am part of a project research team working on “Strengthening University Outreach and Agri-Entrepreneurship Training for Community Transformation”. The university-based research team that includes faculty and students is working closely communities in Lira, Northern Uganda (under the Ngetta Farmer Field School Resource Center) through the community engagement approach of student field attachment. This work is supported by the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM) and is part of a grant to Gulu University (Grant ID: RU 2014 NG 15).
Together with 240 smallholder farmers, we have documented nutritional practices in the community including their high reliance on carbohydrate staples like cassava, maize, and potatoes for daily meals. Cassava was found to be the staple most widely consumed as a base meal in the community diet thus making it a good entry point for nutritional intervention in the community.
Since the farmers were already processing it into mostly chips and gari, we developed a protocol to enrich gari –which is predominantly starch- with locally available foods to improve its protein and micronutrient content. Using a participatory approach, the community selected soybeans and silver fish as candidates protein sources for gari enrichment. Using local expertise and locally fabricated equipment, we developed a method for producing nutritionally enriched gari at the community level. Methods of proper harvesting and post-harvest processing including blending and packaging were all agreed upon. This undertaking has served as a value-add to cassava and has transformed the community’s perception of the potential of cassava to generate income. Click here to read the full story.
 Sam Elolu graduated with a Bachelors degree in Agriculture from Gulu University in 2012. Since then, he has had a progressive career in community extension, particularly working with rural communities in Northern Uganda. He is currently pursuing a Masters in Food Security and Community Nutrition at the same University with a scholarship from RUFORUM.