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Christine Alokit: Bananas, veg & a fertilizer film

27 April 2017: Christine Alokit is the face of ASHC in Uganda, as a part of her responsibilities for CABI in the country. She explains how she has worked with ASHC:

Today we are meeting with the Banana Agronomy Project in Kampala, Uganda. The project is exploring ways of improving scalable banana agronomy for small-scale farmers in highland banana cropping systems in East Africa. At the launch we will review the project objective and the work streams designed to deliver them. The project is also keen to explore synergies and partnerships with other projects, including the Africa Soil Health Consortium, to see how they can support the project work plan. ASHC has been working on banana for some time and has produced a cropping guide for coffee-banana farming systems which can be found in the ISFM materials library.

One of my other priorities is to promote Fertilizer Optimisation Tools (FOTs). The FOTs are decision support tools that help resource-constrained farmers to maximise their returns on any given level of investment in fertilizer.

The FOT has been developed as part of the project Optimizing Fertiliser Recommendations for Africa (OFRA). The ground work for the project was put in place by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the National Agricultural Research Organisation in Uganda, but with AGRA investment the project was rolled out over 13 countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

 The FOTs run on computer software, with a smartphone app currently under development. This development will make it easier for extension team to get the tool out to farmers and farmers groups, so they can benefit from the customized advice.

Given that the project started in Uganda, this was the obvious place to pilot training approaches to mainstream the use of the FOT. As we delivered the training program we developed a short documentary film which sets out our approach to training and promotion of the tool.

OFRA book

The next step is to train more extension teams in the use of the tool. Over the past couple of months 119 extension workers have been trained and are ready to become champions for the FOT. We also plan to liaise with the farmers who were early adopters of the FOT to see if they have achieved the yields they anticipated. This will give us valuable insights into how the FOT is delivering in terms of yield and return on investment.

A third project I have been heavily involved in a project funded by Irish Aid the promotion of African indigenous vegetables. Indigenous vegetables are rich in micro-nutrients that mean they can be a valuable contributor to food and nutritional security. These vegetables have been largely ignored by the extension service in favour of more mainstream crops. This has led to them becoming something of an orphan crop. This does however mean that accessing vegetable seeds can be difficult.

 The challenge we had therefore was to promote the growing and consuming of the vegetables whilst simultaneously ensuring that there was a growth in the availability of seed. Where seed was available it was often not clean or sold in the best conditions. CABI selected 9 varieties for determined development. Promotional materials were developed for farmers, materials for use in schools and radio information.

Seed production for African indigenous vegetables

A generic training manual was produced supported by 18 crop specific guides – 9 covering seed production and 9 covering vegetable production. These materials have now been shared on the ISFM material library on the ASHC website and are ready for download.