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The Green Peas locally known as “Obukwamimbi are purely a Farmer’s Variety


There are so many different types of green peas grown around the country but these specific green peas locally known as “Obukwamimbi in the Lukonjo language are grown in the mountains of the Kabarole district in Western Uganda and attract a price that a new person to visit the community would first ask why it is that way. As a sack of these peas costs 300,000 to 350,000 UGX. “If they can cost this amount, it catches your attention”

Phillemon Matte a 42-year-old and a father to 9 children, a mukonjo by the tribe, and a small-scale farmer in Nyakitokoli B village, Karangura Sub-county is a farmer who will wholeheartedly tell you with a big smile on his face what this crop means to him and the entire community.

“I grew up seeing my parents grow this crop, it was their source of income and today it is also my source of income that has helped me and other farmers to educate our children,” Matte said

“This crop is important for me because it is quick and money-generating while eating them are so delicious and nutritious and we always have sauce for food,” he added

“We prepare well and clean the garden because the roots are weak, where they have superficial roots that do not go so deep so they need a fine garden. We don’t plant them deeply because if you do, they may not germinate easily or not germinate at all,” he explained

“We harvest so early, and they take less time and this type is less attacked by pests and diseases apart from the rats that disturb us especially when you do not weed in time and also during sunshine” he added

According to Matte, this crop is cultivated in 2 months and ready for harvesting in 2 months when they cultivate from up in the mountains where it is cool and cold but 1 month and 3 weeks is when they cultivate from the low land where there is enough sunshine.

“This type of pea likes rain more than sunshine, where the sunshine should be less than the rain. As it has started raining these days, we as farmers are happy,” the farmer pointed out

This particular garden is only 3 weeks old where he planted them on the 29th of February and the crops have started flowering and in the next 3 weeks, they be nearing harvesting. That is why they do the weeding so early so that the weeds do not compete so much with the crop. “This garden I planted 21 kilograms (kgs) and I may harvest 400kgs and will probably sell them at 300,000 to 350,000 UGX per bag,” he informed

Matte also said that he made 3 million UGX last season when he planted only 70kgs. Therefore as they take less time and in a year they get to plant 3 to 4 times, as farmers weigh when the rains are coming as well as sunshine.

Matte has 4 gardens of similar crops which he planted at different periods to have what to sell at different stages of the season and eat. This also determines the price of the crop on the market.

However, as more farmers continue harvesting, prices go down, and this time if you move around this community, there are a few farmers who have this size of crops that are flowering. “We who plant early have the advantage of selling at a high price but as more harvests happen, prices go down,” he informed

“We also eat them like any other beans because, on our market, we harvest them fresh and sell them to Kampala because they like them so much. They are quick to be cooked because their coats are soft,” he said

However, as farmers, they have avoided depletion of soils by allowing the gardens to rest for a certain period but practicing crop rotation as well and this small-scale farmer informed us that they do not spray with chemicals because their soils are still good.

How this community is preserving the seed

Matte explained when they harvest, have to retain the seeds for planting in the coming seasons and each household in this community has these seeds. “What is surprising is that you can move around Fort Portal City and you will not find them being sold in shops,” he said

According to Matte, all the fine gardens across the mountains are green peas planted because the other crops grown here like water onions, garlic, and Irish potatoes take 3-4 months to be harvested. So farmers prioritize these green peas.

He however asks the government to assist them in the procurement of the seed and how it can be kept and given to them during the planting season as the seed is expensive.

“If I want to cultivate an acre, I cannot afford a seed where 1 kg of these green peas costs 14,000 to15,000 UGX which is so expensive for a farmer like me but in case of support from the government, I can get to cultivate so many acres. I will honestly say that I cannot afford money for 1 or 2 acres but can only manage small plots,” he cried out

Joseph Maatek is an extension farmer who has been working with these farmers under different organizations and also the government under the National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS) where they try to help farmers with agronomical practices so that they can have increased yield on soil preparation, and sorting so that they plant good seeds and harvest properly.

“The Farmers are very happy with these green peas because they mature very quickly though when it is early harvesting, the prices are very high, and when they are in season, the prices are low, I think the government should assist in regulating the prices, especially when the prices are very high since the farmers are unable to buy enough seed but end up owning small plots,” Maatek said

According to Maatek, if the government supported them on how to own a seed bank so that farmers could access these seeds and increase their acreage and support them to sell their crops collectively because each one is selling at his or her price and the middlemen are cheating them.

“This crop has been of help to farmers and it has given employment to many people because people come from Kampala to buy these peas and farmers can unite.”

The support from the Agriculture officer

According to Simon Sunday the Agriculture Officer of the district, says that this is not a hybrid variety, so it doesn’t require farmers to buy it every season though the farmers have their local way of buying and preserving this seed being of good value and importance. The government can come up with a project to see how they can sustain this kind of seed of higher importance.

Sunday recommended how it can be through building capacity of the Local Seeds Businesses (LSB) though they have been happening in different projects with different organizations. The government can adopt it to give better results. “This seed will stay for generations because it has not stayed for 2 or 5 years but they have been here for decades,” he insisted

“It was around 2003 when an inquiry came up about how to buy a kilogram at 20,000 or 30,000 UGX and in the normal market, the other peas were bought at 3000 UGX, and this brought up issues of understanding about the nature of such peas that attract such a cost. This was an issue of accountability that caught the interest of other people in seeing this as abnormal. But the whole issue was, it wasn’t until they got to know how good the seed is, that they would tell that these peas are different from others that is why it is expensive,” the Agriculture Officer explained

“The same scenario happened around 2012-2013 during the NAADS time when the public thought the locals had inflated the price of these green peas, it so happened that during the local procurement procedures, where you go to a community, you see what they are doing better and it is what you procure for them. But these specific peas had proven to be of economic importance to this locality so the people were set free to have peas of that amount,” he added

He called upon Research institutions like The National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO) to get interested in this variety and get more to its research and development so that this pea’s variety can be conserved and commercialized and have the seed on a large scale.

“Interesting private sectors like seed companies can multiply the seed for future generations to avoid extinction, possibly there are other areas of the country where this variety can work and be tried.”

Agroecology and Farmer Varieties

Joshua Aijuka, Head of Programmes at PELUM Uganda gave a view on how farmer varieties are key in playing a fundamental agroecological role saying that farmer varieties are locally adapted, highly nutritious, and genetically diverse. They enable farming households to stay in production continually as they can be replanted without losing viability and can cope with the harsh changing climatic conditions. “They also enable households to produce diverse and culturally diverse foods to guarantee food nutrition and sovereignty.”

He educates on how farmer’s seed systems conserve, manage, and regenerate diverse species and varieties and can ensure the flow of various natural and ecological cycles as the systems use both indigenous and new knowledge to manage seed diversity overtime through continuous on-farm selection that ensures continuity of desired traits in a specific farming community.

“These selected ‘seeds’ are managed separately from other grains/food. The introduction of community seed banks and participatory plant breeding approaches using farmer field schools has further enhanced the practice by engaging farmers and breeders to enhance traits of local varieties,” he says

Climate Change and Farmer Varieties

Charles Opiyo, a Resilient Livelihood Manager, at Oxfam Uganda, says that the climate will continue to change because of human activities across the globe.

Opiyo however advises the farmers to continue nurturing those local varieties in their kind of environment because the proof they have against the heat apart from planting the trees is not going to be there but the most important thing is to expose these varieties so that they continue to evolve with the changing climate.

“That’s why it is good for other stakeholders like the breeders, and national research organizations to work in close collaboration with the farmers because they continually observe the changing characteristics of these plants,” he asked

“That kind of knowledge that is generated, observed, seen, or kept by the farmers needs to be tapped into because the breeders are not always in the communities but always in their central stations,” he said

Opiyo thinks that the farmers need their capacity built to make sure that the selection of their local varieties is informed by their breeding or selection objectives which are based on characteristics like being resistant to drought or tolerant to high moisture/water logging, pests, and disease.

“The truth is the farmer’s seeds adapt to the environment specifically the ecologies so whatever is changing in the environment, these local varieties also change and that’s what makes them like they can perform better than these other exotic ones. At least they have that adaptive characteristic,” Charles Opiyo

Thoughts on why farmer varieties should be recognized

Speaking to the Senior Principal Research Officer, the Head of Plant Genetic Resources Center/ Curator Entebbe Botanic Gardens confirmed their support for farmers saying that the long process, time, and commitment that it takes for a farmer to nurture a variety deserve recognition considering the challenges faced by the farming communities such as climate, weather, pests and diseases, and market fluctuation among others. “If a farmer has over the years been able to develop, nurture, and keep a variety, they deserve recognition,” he said

“If this variety is really good and the community is utilizing it, how do you scale it out? You can only do that by supporting the farmer because a farmer cannot multiply the sufficient seed that can reach out to others. The process that we are looking at right now is how we can support them as far as the good variety they have natured,” he explained

Dr Kalule Okello David the Principal Research Officer, Plant Breeder-Geneticist PL Oil Crops said that they advocate for some of those unique crops with various good traits that should be conserved in the particular community and that community should be empowered to use them judiciously.

Some of these varieties must be only growing and adapted to that particular agroecology, where the farmers reap the benefit of food, medicine, and everything in there. In some cases, when you take it out of that community, the benefit that the variety has is lost, and those kinds of uniqueness need to be protected.

According to Kalule, The best way to conserve varieties is by conservation through usage, “if you allow that you can derive benefits from this, but if you destroy it all, you won’t realize that benefit and such communities can be helped, that variety can be listed and the farmers recognized.”

“In addition, also some of these seeds have been happening over and over time again without replenishment and they have lost their value over time. That’s why some of them need some protection whereby you can get alternatives from NARO and the ministry,” he added

Charles Opiyo, a Resilient Livelihood Manager, at Oxfam Uganda supports farmer varieties being recognized because of the food security of the local community even as the country is largely dependent on them. “The supply of seeds according to statistics right now, 80% is coming from a farmer-managed seed system. If something is supporting the survival and production system, why not recognize it? Because they guarantee food security,’ Opiyo said

Opiyo said that the farmer’s varieties are highly diversity compared to the breeder’s variety because breeders concentrate on few crops probably to respond to the market demand but also due to limitations in funding. The diversity must be recognized by actually acknowledging farmer varieties.

The farmer varieties are a source of parent materials for breeders as they cannot maintain all the thousands of different crop species, they have to concentrate on one, and now every time they have to make another improvement, they have a fallback position to be able to do this by going back to the communities.

“If we don’t recognize them, then the breeders will not have anywhere to run to do their breeding work. Therefore the farmer varieties offer raw materials for higher-level crop improvement programs,” the Resilient Livelihood Manager commented

“We at ESAFF and a few partners found out that farmers’ seed varieties have existed and farmers have been living with them for some time memorial, in that regard there is a need to bring them to the limelight of the laws and it needed the farmers to be recognized,” Hakim Baliraine, Chairman of the Eastern and Southern Africa Small-scale Farmers’ Forum (ESAFF)

According to Baliraine, after recognition, they have to be legally known and this means it has to be registered as per the laws of the National Seed Catalogue.  “This journey is not an easy one because issues relating to seed sometimes touch some people’s businesses, investment while for the farmers it’s not all about that but about their livelihood. As a civil society that works with farmers my call would be, let’s collaborate to support farmers or undertake farmer’s varieties.”

However, Baliraine says that this process requires resources, and among the resources is funding. “We need funds and to get to that level of funding, we need support, it is our civil society networks and organizations with whom we should work together to source funding for people to support these processes in that it doesn’t stall somewhere as many initiatives have been stalled because of funding,” he called on civil society organizations

“If we start together and identify sources of funding, then that would be another way the process would go on smoothly to achieve the goal of the farmer’s seed varieties being known, registered, and appreciated,” he added

“It is very important that if we civil society are united, the next step after we have come up with a concept or a position on how we wish the farmer’s varieties to be undertaken, the next step would be the ones who are handling the policies and these are the policymakers and implementers because even sometimes when the laws or policies are made, they can remain in the shelves as many have remained but we need to address from two approaches the policymakers and implementers,” he continued to explain

“That’s why I call upon the policymakers to put in regard that the majority of the directorate are the farmers who need protection and handle it with two hands and put two eyes on it in that, it is taken as a serious issue, which requires attention and due diligence,” he insisted

He also pointed out a lot of politics on the seed and asked policymakers to look at the seed sovereignty as it is very important. “The ownership, heritage, and protection of the biopiracy have happened, and the stealing of the seeds from the farmers then brought back in the form of seed when it is stolen from a farmer and is not benefiting.”

“As the policies are being developed, we need protection but also need  that portion that the farmers will also be benefiting from their seed rather than being at the receiving end,” he defended the farmers

He also asked the implementers when the policies and laws are made to take this time and make sure that the implementation is done as required. “You need to involve all of us from the policy development until it is at the implementation level,” he asked

“Our call to implementers is to implement everything as it has been done to achieve protection, utilization, access, and control. These are the areas we wish that should be addressed diligently,” Baliraine called on

He commented on how scientists understand differently when we talk about farmers’ varieties as well as them as farmers understand it in their way. “There is a variance but as farmers what we call seed is anything we plant, utilize it as food, and even sell surplus,” he pointed out

“So, anything we utilize in farming and seed is not seed or cereal, it goes beyond an extra mile and captures the livestock part of it, the genetic resource, fisheries, these things we use in agriculture and you can derive a livelihood from it, for us we regard it as seed. When we are tackling issues of seed don’t look at the cereals, look at the general picture,” he further explained

He concluded by saying it is upon the scientists to categorize whatever they want, but what farmers shall be putting on the table is the seed.


Sharon Muzaki
Author: Sharon Muzaki

Uganda’s Sharon Muzaki has been with UGStandard Media since 2019, reporting on the environment and climate change. In an area where three quarters of the population makes a living through agriculture, her reporting has contributed to important discussions about the ways that agroecology can be used to support local farmers as the changing climate impacts the success of current farming operations. While working for UGStandard Media, she has attended numerous trainings at the Aga Khan University Graduate School of Media and Communications, honing skills in storytelling, data journalism, and mobile storytelling. In just the past four years, Muzaki has also sought training in agroecology, environmental coverage, climate journalism and multimedia journalism.



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