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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

Interest in trees taking root as perennial crop option

tree become perennial crop optionEver since CSRL began its work in the Kamuli District, there has been interest in growing a diversity of perennial crops as part of the goal to develop climate-smart innovations that help Ugandans live sustainably. In recent years, the call has become louder for agroforestry— introducing timber and cash tree crops around or among the traditional crops or pastureland.

Landowners who plant trees suitable for firewood or charcoal could have a convenient fuel source for their kitchens, rather than having to venture miles away in search of firewood. Planting acacia and other leguminous trees would provide grazing for livestock and a source of nitrogen for the soil, which improves crop growth. With trees for coffee, cashew, cacao and even citrus, for example, these deep-rooted plants would tolerate drought years and provide reliable income for the smallholder farmers who sell their harvest.

“Over the last year and a half, as weather challenges got worse and worse in the tropics, we have seen that there would be crop failures for annual crops. That’s catastrophic for people right on the edge, so what do we do to increase stability if the annual crop doesn’t do well?” asked Lee Burras, CSRL associate director of agronomy and land use.

Burras, Morrill Professor in the Iowa State University Department of Agronomy, and other ISU experts, along with ISU-UP field specialists in Uganda, are trying to introduce a greater number of trees in the farming systems of Kamuli. ISU-UP started three community-based tree nurseries in the last year. Other nurseries are maintained by schools or landowners. Because farmers have limited land, they tend to include trees among the crops within their gardens, says Moureen Mbeiza, ISU-UP agronomy and land use officer in Uganda.

With donor support, CSRL would like to expand the community-based tree nurseries to provide more quality seedlings for fruit trees and firewood and animal fodder species.

For instance, Burras sees great potential for growing trees that produce coffee beans in the Kamuli District, given the area’s elevation of 3,500 feet, which is ideal for Robusta coffee. With good management practices that include grafting an improved scion onto rootstock adapted to the local soils, as well as regular fertilizer and pest management, a landowner farmer could make money on the harvest within two to three years after planting.

“The nice thing about coffee is it does best as an understory plant. And then some crops work best for wood, or for nitrogen fixing. It wouldn’t be one thing or the other, but a combined system. We would need to put together an integrated system that optimizes these different niches,” Burras said.

Whether they provide income or food or improve the condition of the soil, tree crops are a healthy alternative for the Kamuli District.

“By increasing diversification in the farming system, the risk is spread over a greater number of crops.  Then if the maize crop should fail due to a drought, farmers who also have a woodlot can sell the timber or firewood to help them maintain an income,” said David Acker CSRL director.

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