Drought tolerant cowpea, sorghum, and finger millet varieties are adopted by Ugandan farmers

Kiflemariam Y. Belachew1, Geoffrey Tusiime2, Yusuf Byaruhanga2, Magdalene Amuja3, Joyce T Ekere3, Henry N. Maina1, Frederick L.Stoddard1 |

University of Helsinki, Finland; 2 Makerere University, Uganda; 3 Kulika, Uganda

Figure 1. Women farmers in Ngora district while returning from the farm

The team from the University of Helsinki conducted a field trip to Uganda from 06 May to 14 May 2023. The purpose of the trip was to conduct field visits to Farmer Participatory Research (FPR) activities in several districts, including Kaberamaido, Ngora, Wakiso, and Mityana. The team found that the FPR fields of cowpea and finger millet in Ngora, sorghum and finger millet in Kaberamaido, and banana gardens in Wakiso and Mityana districts were in good condition and well managed. Interacting with participating farmers, it was great to hear that they received appropriate training and have the necessary knowledge to effectively grow and manage their crops. The introduction of new crop varieties together with improved agronomic practices has been well received by the farmers, indicating potential for the adoption of these varieties and the associated production practices. The new crop varieties have several desirable characteristics, such as drought and waterlogging tolerance, resistance to birds and pests, early maturation, good taste, and high yield. These characteristics make them suitable for local food production and can potentially contribute to improving agricultural productivity in the region.

Ngora and Kaberamaido Districts: Cowpea, sorghum, and finger millet FPR

Ngora and Kaberamaido Districts are located in Eastern Region of Uganda. The main crops grown in these districts includes cowpea, groundnut, green gram (mung bean), soybean, bambara groundnut, sesame, maize, sorghum, finger millet, sweet potatoes and rice.

We visited cowpea FPR trial sites in Ngora, and sorghum and finger millet sites in Kaberamaido districts. The ACODI farmers group having 23 members and Alotongaren Women Group (having 30 members in Morukakise village) are conducting cowpea and finger millet FPR in Ngora (Figure 2) but also multiplying finger millet seed. In Ngora, farmers are evaluating   2 improved cowpea varieties (E2, E8) alongside Local check for their response to fertilization.  E2 and E8 were selected by farmers in the first and second s of the FPR conducted in 2021 and 2022 out of the 10 cowpea varieties tested.  According to Edunyu Stephen and his group, these two varieties of cowpea were selected by farmers owing to their high yielding ability (827 kg/ha for E2 compared with 370 kg/ha for local variety), earliness (about 2 months to reach maturity) drought tolerance and taste. Especially, E2 is highly favoured by farmers owing to its soft leaves for cooking and taste of grain in sauce preparation. The seed rate for cowpea was reported as 10 kg/ha. Farmers reported that the trials were hit by a one month drought after planting. As a result, finger millet did not emerge while cowpea emerged. The hypothesis given by Makerere University IFA partners for this was that although Ngora soils are sandy, cowpea seeds were planted deep into the soil because of their bigger size while the much smaller finger millet was sown near to the soil surface. This depth difference rendered cowpea to tolerate a long intermittent drought after germination due to access to residual soil moisture while finger millet sprouted and dried. In Kaberamaido, however, the soil is sandy loam, and thus has better water-holding capacity. As a result, the sorghum and finger millet seedlings survived a one-month drought that happened in both (Ngora and Kaberamaido) districts.

In Ngora district finger millet was traditionally one of favourite crops for the farmers. It was a traditional source of carbohydrate and used to prepare Ugali, and Ajon (local traditional beer). However, the place of finger millet had been overtaken by sorghum due to occurrence of frequent drought in the area and deteriorating yields. Now, due to the introduction of drought tolerant and potentially high yielding finger millet varieties NAROMIL 2, NAROMIL 3 and NAROMIL 4 by InnoFoodAfrica partners MAK and Kulika Uganda, the production of finger millet in this locality has been revived. With a seed rate of 15 kg/ha, NARO-Mill 4 provided a yield of about 1793 kg/ha. The other achievements in finger millet growing in this locality is the adoption of row planting by farmers. Previously, finger millet was sown by broadcasting.

Figure 2. Cowpea FPR in Ngora district

A farmer called Helen, the chairwoman of Alotongaren Women Group, reported that cowpea variety E2 is highly preferred for home consumption, and E5 for its market value. This group of farmers served us a variety of food prepared from cowpea grain and leaf (Figure 3), and finger millet grain; in addition to a popular local brew from finger millet.

Figure 3. Food prepared from cowpea (A), and food prepared from finger millet (B)

In Kaberamaido district, a farmer group called Jodongo Niang (30 members) conducts sorghum FPR in Aperikira village. The group is led by an outstanding young farmer called Joseph Olago. Joseph reported to us that they first started the FPR with a mother garden from which they selected the best varieties suitable to their locality. The mother garden comprised of 12 varieties in 2021, then a subset of 5 varieties were selected for 2022 for further FPR trial. From these they selected the best 2 varieties (SO4 and SO12) on the basis of bird resistance, good taste for Ugali (locally called  Atapa) and porridge as compared to the other tested improved varieties and a local sorghum variety is called Serena. Out of the two varieties, SO12 is most favoured by farmers as it matures earlier (about 104 days) while SO4 matures in 114 days. In addition, it fills the grain well, is drought and waterlogging tolerant, and has high tillering ability. Presently, the MAK and Kulika team is conducting an experiment in Aperkira village using three varieties of sorghum (SO4, SO12, and local) to determine their yield response to soil fertilisation.

Figure 4. Joseph Olago (Dr Sorghum) explaining about sorghum FPR he has been conducting with Makerere University and Kulika, Uganda as part of IFA

It was also reported that in 2022, Joseph Olago (Figure 4), locally nicknamed as ‘’Dr Sorghum’’ owing to his effective  agronomic management and seed handling, grew SO4 on 1.6 ha and harvested 1820 kg sorghum (which is about 1138 kg/ha). He managed to sell the sorghum in the local market and bought a piece of land (150 m2) in the nearby town for house construction.

In another village called Oyama, we also visited the sorghum FPR conducted by Imake Obedo farmers’ group in a village called Oyama. . Here the varieties favoured by farmers and in the final phase of FPR experimentation are SO4, SO8, and SO12. The most important attributes of these varieties mentioned by farmers were their outstanding drought tolerance, high yield, bird resistance, pest resistance, and good taste. These varieties were also appreciated for their earliness. SO12 matures in about 85 days while SO4 and SO8 takes about 90 days to mature.  Farmers also outlined traits of other varieties that made them unpopular. For example, they indicated SO6 as late maturing (120 days) in addition to having sweet stems thus attract kids and birds. SO2 and SO3 were susceptible to head smut while SO7 despite having big heads (panicles) was low yielding due to having few seeds. It was also difficult to thresh.

Bedmot Ber Farmers’ Group (24 members), conducted finger millet FPR in Agweng A village. The finger millet FPR was started with the screening of 12 varieties in 2021, which was reduced to a subset of 5 varieties in 2022, and finally a subset of 2 varieties (coded as Variety C and Variety G). These two varieties were selected owing to their outstanding drought tolerance, high yield (big head), good taste and suitability for brewing Ajon, a local alcoholic drink.  The farmers reported that after sowing 10 kg of seed per hectare, gave a grain yield of 1444 kg/ha was harvested. Row planting, a practice introduced by IFA is new to these farmers but has been quickly adopted. Farmers reported that row planting saves seed, but also makes weeding easier and much cheaper. Currently, the MAK and Kulika team is conducting an experiment in Agweng A village using three varieties of finger millet (C, G, and local) with two soil treatments (with and without fertilization).

Mityana district: Cooking banana FPR

Figure 5. Cooking banana FPR field in Mityana district, Uganda

Mityana district is located in the central region of Uganda and is known for its fertile soil for banana production. Although the region has been traditionally been considered fertile and thus suitable  for banana production, over cultivation without replenishment of soil nutrients had significantly diminished yields. In this district, Eden Organic Farmers’ Group (32 members) is working on banana FPR. The group is led by Kagugube Fred who proudly showed us their banana experimental site (Figure 5).  At this site, the effect of five organic fertilizers is being tested on four cooking banana varieties (Mpologoma, Kisansa, Nfuuka, and Mbwazirume).  The five organic fertilizer treatments include: bokash, cow dung, poultry litter, bio-char, and a control). Bokash is relatively new in Uganda and is made from fermented kitchen waste, cow dung manure, coffee husks, maize/rice bran, molasses, and yeast. During the FPR farmers learnt new lessons about the importance of big (1 m x 1 x 1m) planting holes for moisture conservation and banana root and corm expansion, and the use of tissue culture raised planting materials. Farmers reported that they were initially doubtful about the performance of the miniature planting materials.  However, after trying them, they have learnt that these planting materials are fast growing and establish in the field uniformly.

The farmers appreciated Mpologoma cooking variety for its high yield and market value, and Mbwazirume for home consumption.

After training offered by IFA, Kagugube Fred (Figure 6) has become very enthusiastic and active in banana production. As a result, local radio and TV channels invite him to teach farmers about banana farming. He is now also trying to do rapid banana sucker production from corms using his mini-plastic house.

Figure 6. Fred the scientist (with the cap) and Fred the farmer (without cap – Dr. Banana) were happy to meet in the Banana FPR field, Mityana district.

Research collaboration with National Semi-Arid Resources Research Institute (NASARRI)

The MAK and Kulika, Uganda have an excellent collaboration network with NASARRI who supplied them with improved varieties of cowpea, finger millet and sorghum. Sometimes, NASARRI scientists are invited for joint farmer training sessions. We had a chance to visit, the NASARRI head office in Serere district where we discussed future collaboration efforts with scientists.


These FPR activities highlight the importance of introducing improved crop varieties and agronomic practices to enhance productivity, resilience, and food security in the Ngora, Kaberamaido, and Mityana/Wakiso districts of Uganda. The involvement of farmers in the FPR shows early adoption of improved agricultural practices, and their positive response to the introduced crop varieties is a promising sign for the future of agriculture in the region.

Figure 7. The team from University of Helsinki, Makerere University, and Kulika Uganda

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