Sweepotato discovery How staff are Collaborating to Create health for pigs and wealth for farmers in Uganda

Research is a collaborative process. It brings together a wide variety of actors to contribute to a community of practice and knowledge on an issue. In Uganda, key actors are working together to find out how to create health for pigs and wealth for pig farmers in the country. Titled 'Improving the utilization of sweetpotato and other root and tuber crops residue for pig feeds' the research project is focused on developing practical solutions for farmers. Led by the International Potato Center (CIP), the team is comprised of a wide range of organizations each bringing their own expertise and skills to the project including: International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), National Agricultural Research Organisaiton (NARO), VEDCO, CHAIN-Uganda, Iowa State University, Makerere University, Uganda Martyrs University and Pig Production and Marketing Ltd. Here we meet a few key players who are contributing to this research...

The piglets which will be fed with sweetpotato silage to evaluate its potential as animal feed. The pigs are being housed at the NARO MUZARDI satellite station in Central District, Uganda Credit: S. Quinn/CIP

James Francis, a Masters student who is passionate about livestock nutrition

James Francis Ojakol is an animal science student at Makerere University in Uganda. He is currently working with CIP conducting his Masters research on the evaluation of sweetpotato silage as a basal diet for growing pigs: "My overall objective is to demonstrate that pig production in Uganda can be improved through the use of sweetpotato silage as a low cost, high quality feed,” James tells us as he takes us on a tour of the NARO research site where he is conducting the trials. “There are three elements to my research. The first one is to determine the quality of silage prepared from sweetpotato vines. The second is to determine the nutrient digestibility of sweetpotato silage in the growing pigs and the third is to determine the growth performance of pigs fed on sweetpotato silage."

James is particularly interested in exploring the nutritional aspect for pigs: "Sweetpotato is a nutritious option. The roots contain carbohydrates and the vines contain protein meaning it is a very good choice of feed for livestock." He is also interested in the potential to utilize commodities which are commonly found on farms in Uganda: "In Uganda, about 40% of the farmers produce sweetpotato. And in many cases the vines of the sweetpotato are discarded and left to rot on the farm. Many farmers also keep a few pigs. So this research is really about trying to find a good use for a product (sweetpotato vines) that often goes to waste, as a feed for pigs."

Not only could this help to decrease on-farm waste of sweetpotato vines and create animal feed for the pigs, but could really help farmers bridge the feed gap that is common during the dry season which leads to a dramatic increase in the cost of feed for pigs. "This could really be a win-win solution for our farmers. What we need to do to create real impact here is to find ways to preserve the vines and the roots so that we can have them available for farmers to feed to pigs during the time of scarcity. This would really help farmers especially smallholder farmers who are very vulnerable to price fluctuations.”

CIP has conducted research in other countries, primarily Kenya and Vietnam, on using sweetpotato vines for animal feed to great success. This project presents a good opportunity to build on that research – and James Francis’ research will be the basis for developing key recommendations to farmers about producing silage for pigs.

The sweetpotato seed multiplication garden at Mukono Zardi - Kamenyamiggo station which James Francis is utilising to make sweetpotato silage as part of his masters resarch Credit: S. Quinn/CIP

Nicholas, the sweetpotato expert bringing sweetpotato nutrition to the pigs of Uganda

Nicholas Sekaunda works at a satellite station for NARO managing sweetpotato production. We greet him amongst the vines where he is reviewing the health of the crop and he takes us on a tour of the fields: "This is a field plot of sweetpotato vines. We have four acres of sweetpotato here on site and the variety we are growing is NASPOT 11. This site was established so we can conduct research on using sweetpotato vines for making silage."

A field of NASPOT 11 which Nicholas Sekaunda is growing at the NARO satellite station as part of the research project Credit: S. Quinn/CIP

Established in May, 2015, the fields are thriving: "We expect that by November the vines will be ready to cut and to place in our newly constructed silos which have been up near the pig pens. The silos are where the vines will be turned into silage. Once that is up and running we will start the feeding trials, hopefully by December".

Nicholas is the go-to person here for questions on sweetpotato and he eagerly answers my 101 questions on sweetpotato while wandering through the fields touching the leaves and feeling the soil in his hands, making sure everything is as it should be: "We chose NASPOT 11 because of its vigorous vegetative growth. Even after harvesting, it regrows very fast, and then you can continue to harvest. We expect that with the four acres we have here we will be able to provide enough vines to cover the length of the experiment. Even after the initial research is done and we have the recommendations then we hope to continue growing the vines and using the silage to feed our pigs. This will be a great way to use the vines and to cut down dramatically on the cost of buying feed."

"We will also use the onsite fields, silage and pigs as a way to demonstrate to farmers that visit us how they can make their piggery enterprise more profitable. Farmers are always looking for opportunities to lower costs so I'm sure there will be lots of interest".

Selecting the right variety of sweetpotato is important to ensure that yields are good and that the balance between vine and root production is right: "I think NASPOT 11 variety is the right choice for this project. Farmers will like the fact that it will produce lots of vines which they can turn into feed, as well as producing good tubers which can either be used for household consumption or taken to market. So farmers are getting two things here which we think they will be very happy with".

Collaboration is key to research and Nicholas is proud to be working for NARO which focuses on doing adaptive research that can directly impact farmers: "Our end goal is to see that the research we do is directly impacting on farmers lives so that they can change or improve practices on the farm to improve nutrition and livelihoods for them and their families and communities. This is why we do what we do."

"When NARO Muzadi was contacted to participate in this project, we were very happy. We welcomed the research project. The project contributed the pigs to be used for the trials and we contributed the land which is planted with sweetpotato. We will also take the lead on disseminating the results to farmers. We really believe in the research and are excited to be playing an important role. Our aim is to make sure that we improve the livelihood of the farmer by improving practices and making piggery enterprises in Uganda more profitable."

A female pig eats unprocessed sweetpotato vines mixed with cabbage and green leaves at a nearby farm in Central District, Uganda. This is a very common feed for pigs throughout the country. Credit: S. Quinn/CIP

Moses, livestock researcher and pig production expert

Moses Masegwa leads the program for livestock and agriculture at NARO. A production scientist by training, he is fascinated by the interplay between humans and animals and interested to understand how competition for food and land plays out: "In Uganda, there is competition for food and land and we as the lead research organization in the country need to look for new ways to organize agricultural production for food and animal consumption. I think this project has great value as it will help to reduce competition for food, particularly sources of carbohydrate and protein."

Feeding is one of the main production constraints for smallholder pig farmers due to the seasonality, high cost and poor quality of feeds and coupled with limited knowledge of supplementation strategies. Credit: S. Quinn/CIP

Moses believes strongly that research like this can directly impact on the lives of smallholder farmers and ultimately benefit the community at large as we discover new systems for food production. He is excited to look at ways for sweetpotato vines, which he explains very often go to waste on the farm, can be used to feed pigs - a very common farm animal in Uganda: "This is a great way to decrease waste and to lessen the burden on farmers to buy expensive feed for their pigs. Also, production of sweetpotato of seasonal so if we can find a way to create silage which can last for a few months this will mean that farmers will be able to access feed all year round. This is very valuable."

While Moses is happy to chat about sweetpotato it is the health of the pigs that is of real interest to him. "I'm looking forward to seeing the results. I hope that we can demonstrate weight gain and show good overall health of the pigs after eating sweetpotato silage. We want to be able to provide farmers with evidence based information on how to improve the health of their pigs. Pig farmers want this kind of information. So once we have some clear outputs we will work with the farmers to make sure they are part of the dissemination process and to ensure that it is farmers that will benefit from the research."

The pig pens on site at the NARO satellite station where the research is taking place Credit: S. Quinn/CIP

Why this research is important

Roots, Tubers and Bananas crops are an important source of food and income in most developing countries. In Sub Saharan Africa, the crops are a major staple providing 20% of calorific requirements and constituting nearly two thirds of per capita food production. However, their full potential to contribute towards food and income security has not yet been realized due to a number of challenges, including bulkiness and high perishability of the crops, poor postharvest management and lack of storage and processing facilities. These challenges lead to high postharvest losses, short and direct marketing channels and limited value adding. It is widely recognized that there is considerable scope for repositioning RTB as added value cash crops through improved postharvest management, expanding processing and targeting changing needs of emerging urban market.

The team

The project is led by the International Potato Center (CIP) and implemented in collaboration with International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), the National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO), Makerere University, Uganda Martyrs University, Volunteer Efforts for Development Concerns (VEDCO), Coalition for Health, Agriculture and Income Networks (CHAIN)-Uganda, Pig Production and Marketing Ltd (PPM) and farmer organizations.

Expanding utilization of roots, tubers and bananas and reducing their postharvest losses

RTB-ENDURE is a 3 year project (2014-2016) implemented by the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas with funding from the European Union and technical support of IFAD. Its goal is to contribute to improved food security for RTB-producing communities in East Africa, including producers and other stakeholders along the value chain.

Words & Images: Sara Quinn, Regional Communications Specialist, International Potato Center

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