Saving local cassava varieties to enhance food security in Uganda


By Settumba Mukasa and Moses Erongu, College of Agriculture & Environmental Sciences, Makerere University

Plate A: Local cassava variety, Bao, displaying typical CMD symptoms

Plate A: Local cassava variety, Bao, displaying typical CMD symptoms

Cassava is the most important root crop in Uganda, grown in most parts of the country because of its ability to survive in a wide range of soil and weather conditions. It also serves as a family food reserve crop because of its ability to store in the soil for more than 12 months, and is increasingly becoming important as a source of income.

On average, farmers in Uganda grow between two and six cassava varieties in their fields. These include local varieties such as Bao, Alodo-alodo (Tim-tim), Nyaraboke, Fumba chai, and Ebwanaterak; and recently released varieties such AKENA, NASE 3, NASE 14, and NASE 19. Most local varieties are susceptible to the cassava mosaic disease (CMD), but fairly tolerant to the cassava brown streak disease (CBSD), the two most critical diseases of cassava in Uganda. The prevalence of CMD has caused farmers to abandon many local varieties, liked for their good food quality, due to decline in yield and quality. Some varieties have even become extinct.

However, Bao is still very popular among farmers in most parts of Northern Uganda and is exclusively grown for food because of its good taste, mealiness and keeping quality in the garden. Inspite of its susceptibility to CMD (Plate A), farmers have persistently grown this local variety which plays a key role in the food security of many households in Kole, Apac and Lira districts. Recently released varieties such as Akena (MH91/0067), NASE 3, NASE 14, and NASE 19 are not used for food, but instead processed into flour for brewing and other commercial uses.

Like in the northern region, farmers in most parts of Eastern Uganda used to grow a local variety, Ebwanaterak, for food because of its taste, mealiness and fast growing traits. It is no wonder that it became traditionally associated as a quick food security crop for newly married couples. Unlike Bao, which is relatively tolerant to CMD, but takes a little longer to grow, Ebwanaterak has almost been wiped out by the cassava mosaic virus disease which appeared in Uganda in 1988 and has eliminated most local cassava varieties in many parts of the country.

To stem the loss of cassava due to CMD and CBSD, breeding for virus resistance is going on and varieties in the NASE series have been adopted by some farmers. However, these new varieties are not popular because, much as some local varieties are used as parents during breeding, they lack certain root qualities that would make them acceptable as food, especially when cooked fresh. Farmers in Northern Uganda therefore continue to grow predominantly local varieties, posing a potential food security disaster due to the threat of disease.

In order to avert this potential disaster and contribute to sustainable food security in Uganda, the Cassava Community Action Research Project (CARP), funded by the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (Grant No. RU 2014 CARP 04), seeks to avail clean planting materials to communities in the project area. Following some reconnaissance studies, the project has so far identified and collected some farmer preferred varieties at the Makerere University Agricultural Research Institute Kabanyoro for laboratory cleaning and virus indexing with the purpose of re-introducing them to the farming communities as clean and healthy planting materials.

Plate B: Healthy cassava plants growing in a screenhouse at the Makerere University Agricultural Research Institute Kabanyoro after disease cleaning

Plate B: Healthy cassava plants growing in a screenhouse at the Makerere University Agricultural Research Institute Kabanyoro after disease cleaning

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One thought on “Saving local cassava varieties to enhance food security in Uganda

  1. Pingback: Enabling rural women prosper from cassava bioethanol production through university-community engagement | RUFORUM

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