Fifty years ago, Uganda was the largest cotton producer in sub-Saharan Africa. However, Uganda is the only East African country to see a consistent decline in its cotton production in recent decades. Whereas Kenya and Ethiopia are in the process of reviving their cotton sectors through genetic modification technology, Uganda has only one variety of cotton seeds and a low rate of technology upgradation. Once able to clothe itself, Uganda has become the one of the top importers of used clothing on the continent.
Despite decline, cotton remains an important crop in the country. With about 2,000,000 persons employed in cotton farming, 300,000 are small holder farmers, each having about 6 dependents, Uganda’s socio-economic development has a lot to gain from increasing the efficiency and resilience of cotton farming.
Like Uganda, India too once grappled with low productivity due to low seed quality and low adoption of technologies; India successfully addressed these challenges through creating strong research and training institutions, associations and government agencies. The “lessons learnt” from doing so are invaluable for Ugandan cotton stakeholders. What’s more, India and Uganda’s cotton seed varieties are a good fit for creating new hybrids – thanks to the yin yang nature of their strengths and weaknesses. Together, this points to a cotton seed exchange to combine the strengths of the two seed varieties.
Germplasm exchanges are sensitive, bureaucratic and take consuming – but having an effective facilitator makes a world of difference… And resilient seeds that produce high quality cotton will enable higher and more consistent yields for smallholder farmers in both countries, to bring about an impactful change.
Having established a partnership between the appropriate Indian and Ugandan research institutions, SITA is shoring up the success and impact of the exchange by organising for researchers and technicians to exchange relevant knowledge ahead of the swap. The more informed the institutions are about the new seed variety they receive, the more they can make better use of the opportunity. In addition, SITA are ensuring the partners develop their awareness of the most game-changing technology to compliment the new varieties.
Exchanging the seeds
Uganda’s cotton seeds get low yields and has lower germplasm vigour. These are qualities that Indian seeds have covered. However, the short staple length of Indian cotton means it has a lower ginning outturn than the high-quality Ugandan cotton. In short: the two varieties have opposing strengths.
The exchange rests on a formal partnership between the National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO) of Uganda, the Cotton Development Organisation (CDO) of Uganda, and the SIMA Cotton Development and Research Association (SIMA CDRA) of India. The partnership was forged by SITA, thanks first of all to a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in Addis Ababa in November 2019, followed by mutual visits of researchers, identification of seed varieties, development of a manual on production of the cotton varieties and a number of institutional trainings.
At least two new cotton varieties will be developed, tested and certified for commercial use in India and Uganda. The research institutions in each country will cross-breed the seeds to combine the positives of each variety and multiply the new varieties in field trials with farmers. By equipping the partners with the relevant knowledge, SITA can establish strong foundations for making the germplasm exchange a success.
Transferring the knowledge
In the last week of August, researchers from Ugandan institutions NaSARRI/ NARO and CDO came online in a five-part online training series facilitated by SITA. The 25 participants (30% women) came from different areas of cotton production research, e.g. breeding, agronomy, pathology, entomology, and ginning. Their learning was facilitated by presenters from SIMA-CDRA, as well as ICAR-Central Institute for Research on Cotton Technology (CIRCOT).
Equipped with a training manual to take away with them, the participants were introduced to SIMA-CDRA’s best practices and recent developments in cotton production and protection technologies. Focussing on the seed varieties that have been selected for the germplasm exchange, the researchers and technicians learnt about: agronomy, reading practices and post-harvest technologies.
100 percent of the participants – who were researchers and technicians – rated the training as excellent or good (52 percent as excellent and 48 percent as good). They will use their newfound knowledge to best fulfil their role when it comes to developing the new seeds – and to pass on to the cotton farmers when the seeds are ready for commercial use.
Boosting productivity through quality, resilient seeds will also give Uganda’s cotton farmers an opportunity to upgrade their technology – to further increase the competitiveness of Uganda’s cotton sector. The strong partnership SITA has built is also providing a platform for this technology transfer.
Transferring the technology
Like knowledge, technology is also a major catalyst for Uganda’s cotton sector’s revival. Appropriate technology can help lock-in the benefits of the seed exchange. Mechanization can also reduce the cost of cotton cultivation for smallholder farmers in the long run. Technology requires a degree of know-how and awareness, which most Ugandan smallholders currently lack, and which Indian cotton stakeholders have recently gained. SITA have therefore incorporated technology as another fruitful dimension of the partnership between SIMA-CDRA and the Ugandan cotton institutions.
At the training last month, Indian cotton experts introduced the Kapas Plucker to the researchers and technicians from CDO and NARO: the innovative cotton plucking machine is designed to reduce the labour costs of harvesting for smallholder cotton farmers, increasing farm incomes to encourage the continued growth of cotton. The Ugandan participants took great interest when the two Indian farmers shared their experiences. They were surprised to note that Kapas Plucker plucks five times more cotton than manual picking, resulting in saving on labour cost by USD 6 to 7 per day. This works out as 500 USD saved per acre. As a next step, and as part of the SITA support, 20 Kapas Pluckers will be procured from SIMA-CDRA and sent to Uganda by November 2020 for piloting.
The wonder of South-South cooperation
Germplasm exchange is highly sensitive, bureaucratic and time consuming. However, the Indian Ugandan partnership facilitated by SITA shows that it is possible, and the payoffs may be huge – and mutually beneficial.
 Uganda CTA Strategy 2019