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Agronomy and Postharvest

The Center for Sustainable Rural Livelihoods is committed to improving overall crop management in the Kamuli District. We bring Iowa State expertise together with indigenous knowledge to foster solutions to the region’s low crop yield and devastating amounts of post-harvest loss. Our ISU-UP field specialists work with small holder farmers, youth groups, and agricultural entrepreneurs to help ensure food security and safety throughout the region. Through our projects, we’re improving household nutrition, feeding bodies and minds through school gardens, encouraging income diversity, providing sustainable feeds for animals, growing renewable sources of firewood, improving soils through composting practices, and Agronomy and Postharvest Venn Diagramhelping farmers to become independent and self-reliant for the long term. Resulting strategies have enabled many farmers to meet their families’ nutritional needs for the first time, diversify their families’ diets and earn an income through the sale of excess produce.

Some of the approaches we utilize include:

  • Promote and develop best practices for small-holder land use
  • Promote appropriate technologies to increase production and improve post-harvest storage
  • Provide education and assistance in establishing gardens
  • Conduct youth workshops that create a positive attitude toward farming
  • Facilitate irrigation systems to sustain crop production during the dry seasons
  • Facilitate access to quality seedlings, seeds, and other inputs
  • Establish demonstration gardens where community members learn advanced farming techniques
  • Facilitate exposure visits where community members learn techniques from advanced farmers
  • Conduct soil testing and promote soil improvement practices
  • Encourage efficient use of inputs
  • Promote crop diversification
  • Promote keyhole/plot/sack vegetable gardens to farmers with limited land
  • Conduct workshops in crop, pest, and disease management
  • Improve skills and knowledge to reduce post-harvest losses
  • Assist in establishing woodlots and orchards
  • Provide micro-finance loans that allow smallholder farmers to purchase hermetic grain storage silos and tarps that reduce post-harvest losses
  • Conduct training on safe drying, storage, handling, and milling of grain used for foods to guard against mycotoxins
  • Insure mold- and insect-free maize for use in NECs and schools by sourcing from collaborating farmers

Continuing goals include:

  • Develop capacity for climate change resilience to increase sustainable production of staple and high value crops
  • Increase soil testing to assist with crop selection
  • Promote home-based garden enterprises for students to facilitate knowledge transfer to their homes and surrounding communities
  • Develop community-based tree nurseries to produce fruit and firewood for homes, and fodder for livestock
  • Establish an endowed faculty positions for increased stability and focused support
  • Provide additional micro-finance loans for postharvest technologies (tarps, silos and dryers)
  • Support Iowa State and Makerere University student projects that benefit Kamuli farmers
  • Help Makerere students develop through internship experiences in Kamuli and ISU
  • Develop market value chains for farmers
  • Increase the number of water pumps for irrigation
  • Support research and development of appropriate technologies
  • Improve access to quality and quantity of crop production inputs; seeds and fertilizers
  • Develop agronomy training centers/sites to reduce traveling distance for participating farmers
  • Expand the school gardens program
  • Develop best practices publications in both English and Lusoga languages

Agronomy and PostHarvestWhen Ismael Mayanja was a Makerere University service learner, he cleaned maize at Naluwoli Primary School by winnowing and using a grain sieve. Finding the process “tedious, time-consuming, and inefficient,” he realized that it could be improved.

“The best way to understand the gravity of the problem is by experiencing it,” Mayanja said. “It was clear to me that cleaning maize grain was a problem that needed to be solved.”

Mayanja reasoned that mechanizing the cleaning process would greatly increase the efficiency of grain cleaning, and, with support from ISU-UP and Makerere University Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering, he created his first pedal operated maize cleaner. The cleaner is run by a single operator pedaling a bike-like mechanism that turns a double-screened barrel, which traps impurities like leaves and cobs, and lets the cleaned grain fall to the tarp below. Mayanja’s initial design was powered by an engine, but Tom Brumm, CSRL associate director and Mayanja’s supervisor, encouraged him to consider using a powering mechanism that is less expensive and more feasible for farmers in Kamuli.

According to Rebecca Babirye, the coordinator of postharvest and school feeding program activities at St. Joseph’s Primary School in Naluwoli, previous hand-cleaning methods produced about 200 kg/hr/person, with an efficiency rate of only 50%. Thanks to Mayanja’s invention, one person is now able to clean 900 kg/hr, at over 85% efficiency.

Mayanja continues to refine his original maize cleaner, developing a pedal-operated seed cleaner that can be adjusted to clean groundnuts and beans. He received a Makerere University Research and Innovations Grant, and he and several authors, including Brumm, published an article about his invention in the Journal of Advances in Food Science and Technology. Mayanja also received one of five 2019 Maize Youth Innovators Awards – Africa awarded by the CGIAR Research Program on Maize. Perhaps the greatest reward, though, is knowing how his invention has made a difference in the lives of people in the community.

“My greatest measure of success and happiness is the adoption of the cleaner at ISU-UP schools of operation because this is where the problem was first noticed,” Mayanja said. “Time that was used to clean seeds is now allotted to other productive ventures such as class, farming or even playing time.”

To make a gift to the Center for Sustainable Rural Livelihoods, please click here to go directly to the ISU Foundation, or contact Sarah Roelfs at (515) 294-1031 or