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Thanks from Uganda: Why the Trellis Fund matters

Why the Trellis Fund matters
Farmer shows off tomatoes at the Eco-Agric organic tomato demonstration site. The site was originally supported by the first round of Trellis Fund projects, back when the Horticulture Innovation Lab was still called “HortCRSP.” Horticulture Innovation Lab photo by Peter Shapland.

Editor’s Note: Liz Hohenberger, one of the UC Davis grad students who manages our Trellis Fund, shares a Thank You note sent by an organization that had previously received funding from the Trellis Fund.

The grants that the Horticulture Innovation Lab awards through its Trellis Fund aren’t huge; we fund 6-month projects for $2,000, matching small organizations with U.S. graduate students who can provide expert support. Since the Horticulture Innovation Lab also funds million-dollar projects, this may not seem like much, but we know that Trellis Fund projects can have a lasting impact on the graduate students (think of them as tomorrow’s agricultural leaders) and the local organizations that work together.

We recently received an email from one of the first organizations to receive Trellis funding, a reminder of how big of a difference this small grant can make. The email from Uganda started with:


The letter went on to explain, “You initiated and nurtured the Environmental Conservation and Agricultural Enhancement Uganda (Eco-Agric Uganda), it’s hard to mention all its achievements now.”

The Trellis Fund’s relationship with Eco-Agric Uganda began in 2010, after the organization submitted a project proposal for Trellis Fund consideration. Their proposal “Promotion and expansion of organic tomato growing in Kira Town Council, Wasiko District, Uganda” was selected for funding, and they were paired with Gina Garland, a UC Davis master’s student studying horticulture and agronomy, to help farmers improve tomato production, fight tomato bacterial wilt and tomato blight, and establish 20 tomato nurseries. Eco-Agric recruited 258 farmers to participate, exceeding its promise of 175 participants.

The relationship between Eco-Agric and the Trellis Fund continued the next year when they were selected for funding again, a rare occurrence. Their second proposal, “Promoting orange-fleshed sweet potato for improved livelihoods in Hoima district,” aimed to improve smallholder incomes and nutrition by training farmers on the production of orange-fleshed sweet potato through farmer field schools.

Matched with a plant pathology Ph.D. student from UC Davis, A.J. Campbell, Eco-Agric Uganda equipped 296 farmers — 228 of which were women — with production skills for orange-flesh sweet potato such as seed selection, field preparation, and integrated pest management. In the final report for this second project, Eco-Agric Uganda credits the Trellis Fund with expanding its network by linking them with staff and students at the University of California. They also credited A.J. Campbell for enhancing the capacity of their extension staff. (You can see what A.J. thought of her experience in this short promotional video from 2013.)

The Trellis Fund also furthered its relationship with Eco-Agric Uganda that year, when Elana Peach-Fine and Peter Shapland, who were then managing the Trellis Fund, visited with the organization on a trip to Uganda for other Horticulture Innovation Lab work. They met Eco-Agric staff and traveled to project sites to observe progress and meet participants. In their recent letter, Eco-Agric Uganda staff members specifically thank Elana and Peter for the motivation their support provided the organization and the positive impression it made on other donors.

Today, Eco-Agric Uganda reports it has grown exponentially since 2010: “The Trellis Fund was the very first external donor to Environmental Conservation and Agricultural Enhancement Uganda (Eco-Agric Uganda). But now, the organization since then has partnerships with many donors like: the Vibrant Village Foundation, Quaker Services Australia, USAID, Catholic Relief Services, Civil Society Fund, WWF/UNDP, Agri Business Initiative Trust, the Marr-Munning Trust and many other local donors from Uganda.”

Staff and volunteers with Eco-Agric Uganda welcomed Elana Peach-Fine and Peter Shapland from the Horticulture Innovation Lab, when they visited Uganda.

With this funding, the letter continues, they are currently able to benefit 16,500 orphans and vulnerable children plus their caregivers.

The letter from Eco-Agric Uganda was a nice surprise and a heartwarming reminder of why we continue each year to solicit and fund projects through the Trellis Fund. We are routinely impressed with the way organizations supported by the Trellis Fund leverage their existing networks and skills with this small amount of funding to promote good horticulture practices among their farmers. With Eco-Agric’s letter in hand, we look forward to supporting another round of Trellis projects next year.

Update on current Trellis funding: The Trellis Fund recently reviewed 75 proposals from 15 countries, and we are in the process of finalizing grant awards for the winning proposals. We’ll begin recruiting university students from UC Davis, North Carolina State University, the University of Florida, and University of Hawaii at Manoa in the fall.

Photo at top: Farmer shows off tomatoes at the Eco-Agric organic tomato demonstration site. The site was originally supported by the first round of Trellis Fund projects, back when the Horticulture Innovation Lab was still called “HortCRSP.” Horticulture Innovation Lab photo by Peter Shapland.


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EAC, FAO sign Shs1.5b grant to tackle youth unemployment

EAC, FAO sign Shs1.5b grant to tackle youth unemployment

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations and the East Africa Community (EAC) have signed a grant agreement intended to promote urban and rural agriculture and agribusiness in order to improve youth employment in the region.

The total budget of $440,000 (Shs1.5 billion) is a one-year grant agreement which allows FAO and EAC to find a path for young people to secure decent work opportunities, as well as explore innovative e-business models in the agricultural sector.

The agreement, which took place on the margins of the just concluded African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, was signed by Mr Libérat Mfumukeko, the secretary general for EAC and Dr Patrick Kormawa, the sub-regional coordinator for Eastern Africa and FAO representative to the AU and UN Economic Commission for Africa.
The summit was held under the theme “Harnessing Africa’s Demographic Dividend by Investing in Youth”.

In his remarks Mr Mfumukeko emphasised the positive impact of the agreement by saying “the cooperation with FAO was long overdue, and the current support will go a long way in addressing pertinent issues in East Africa where agriculture is the way of life.”

Despite relatively high economic growth in the partner states of the EAC, youth unemployment remains a great concern for the region, as it slows down economies and causes social problems.
The two institutions have the tools to respond to unemployment in the EAC region. FAO has developed the expertise on youth, agriculture, livelihoods and migration.

EAC, on its part, has prepared its Youth Policy, a cornerstone for many emerging public and private initiatives.

Dr Kormawa also stressed the role of the partnership on youth.
“This Technical cooperation project (TCP) addresses one of the most pressing issues of job creation for youth in the sub region, we at FAO believe that youth employment in agriculture and agribusiness is a way of lifting a significant number of youth out of unemployment and poverty,” he said.

The agreement aims to enhance the capacity of the target countries and the EAC Secretariat to develop and implement youth-in-agriculture initiatives and to improve the East African youth’s access to information, resources and employment opportunities in the agricultural sector.

The key activities
Key activities of the new intervention would include the development of a sub-regional strategy and country action plans for promoting decent employment for youth in the agricultural sector.

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Farmers take up insurance scheme in face of drought

Farmers take up insurance scheme in face of drought

In face of the drought experienced in the country since last year, leaders of farmers groups under National Union of Coffee Agro-businesses and Farm Enterprises (Nucafe) have been sensitised on insurance against the risks to their crop because of such disasters as drought.

During a seminar in Kampala last week, John Makosya, an official from Agro Consortium, a coalition of 10 insurance companies, explained different types of insurance.

These are provided under Uganda Agriculture Insurance Scheme (UAIS) which cover against fire, drought, floods, hailstorms, windstorm, malicious damage, riots and strikes, as well as damage caused by certain pests and diseases.

Makosya disclosed that since introduction of the scheme last year, many farmers have already insured their farms. The scheme is open to various categories of farmers, including livestock keepers, fruit, vegetable and fish farmers plus tea growers, among others.

Collecting information

Joseph Nkandu, the Nucafe executive director, said: “The drought is likely to reduce Robusta coffee production by more than 40 per cent and we may not get the expected national annual output.

This translates onto lower income for farmers and reduced foreign exchange earnings for the country.” The farmers are to benefit from what is known as Coffee Drought Indexed Insurance (CDII), according to information from Agro Consortium.

“The Metosat Satellite of European Space Agency (ESA) is used to monitor drought conditions in Uganda. This information is processed into a Drought Index (RE Index)”
This mechanism—RE Index—is used to understand the historic drought risk, severity and frequency in any sub-county. This provides the basis for the CDII.

The government has offered to pay a subsidy of 50 per cent of the premium for smallholder farmers (less than five acres). A 30 per cent subsidy will be paid for farmers with more than five acres.

Keep records

Drought insurance cover is coffee-specific and related to particular sub-counties where the issues are identified. There is no need for site assessment or field visits before or after the season, and there is no need to fill out claim forms.
All the farmer will have to do is to fill a form specifying location, size of the plantation and sum insured. He will select the insurance period – seasonal or annual—and pay the premium depending on size of his/her plantation. Small-scale farmers may form a group to enter the scheme collectively.

Makosya emphasised that farmers should keep accurate records to help to understand the financial health of the farm and specifically if the crops and livestock are profitable, how much is spent on the farm in a season, where costs can be better managed, which inputs work better on the farm and other forms of information.

“Only farmers who see farming as a business enterprise are likely to take insurance and not those doing it for subsistence,” he said.

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Restore, conserve wetlands to fight environmental degradation

Restore, conserve wetlands to fight environmental degradation

If you have ever fetched clean water from a lake, river or any other natural water body you should probably thank a wetland. Wetlands, are like sponges, they hold this water, filter and purify it before sending it into water bodies.

February 2 is World Wetlands Day and a great opportunity to learn about the value and importance of wetlands to Ugandans.
With the theme – ‘Wetlands for Disaster Risk Reduction, Healthy Wetlands help to cope with extreme weather events.’ This wetlands day is not business as usual, it is a good time for us to reflect on how we can educate our children, our colleagues and our friends about the importance of wetlands.

Initially celebrated in 1997, this day is intended to remind us of our commitments under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands which was adopted in 1971. As a key party to this convention, Uganda is mandated to protect all its wetlands some of which have been approved as Ramsar sites. The 2030 Agenda and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals also provide us an opportunity to celebrate wetlands. The SDGs include various aimed at protecting life in the ocean, on land and on managing climate change.

If we are to leave no one behind as Uganda strives to develop, it is imperative for each of us to do everything we can to save wetlands wherever they are. Well managed wetlands ensure that communities are resilient and can bounce back from disasters faster. We must help conserve and promote sustainable use of wetlands as we support industrialisation and development.

I would like to share a few examples of actions we can take. At individual and community level, we can become a wetlands ambassador and work with family, friends and community members to use water sparingly, to conserve and restore wetlands and to create alternative sources of livelihoods.

Communities can lead efforts to check how wetlands are used in their local areas and participate in clearing the rubbish that is often dumped there as well as unblocking the streams from which they receive water.

Communities can also establish guides, make paintings and other arts to showcase the plants and animals living in wetlands.

Members of the government and Parliament should designate wetlands as protected areas, restore degraded wetlands, partner with local governments and civil society to create awareness about their importance and encourage both citizens and investors to adopt cross sectoral polices in education, housing, agriculture and industry that protect wetlands and promote green economic growth.

As custodians of the SDGs and partners of Uganda, the United Nations in Uganda in partnership with the Government of Uganda has taken several actions to save wetlands. Some of these include:

  • Producing a National Wetlands Atlas with the Ministry of Water and Environment, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). This Atlas will be key for educating the public on where wetlands are located and is a guide on wetland protection country wide. I invite you to get a copy and share its contents in your communities.
  • Support the environmental protection force within Ministry of Water and Environment as well as the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) with equipment to improve on their wetland surveillance and enforcement capacity.
  • Promoting eco-tourism and the extension of wetland protected areas around the Lake Bisina-Opeta in Eastern Uganda and Lake Nakivale in Western Uganda. Working with the local government in Isingiro, UNDP supported refugees and their host communities to restore the banks of Lake Nakivale through tree-planting to minimise silting and improve on the quality of water as well as the fisheries.
  • Partnered with local communities to strengthen the management of Ramsar sites. In Makanaga wetland, part of the Mabamba wetland system, a Ramsar site, UNDP through its Small Grants Programme funded the Uganda Wildlife Education Centre to work with the local community. It constructed a viewing point for birds, established boat trails and trained 20 community members as tour guides. This provided alternative sources of livelihoods for the community hence protecting the wetland.
  • UN-HABITAT in collaboration with Kampala Capital City Authority has developed a flood control model for the Lubiigi catchment which can be replicated in other key towns around Lake Victoria.

Uganda has been recognized for its dignified vision to refugee hosting. Uganda can now build upon its vision 2040 and identify modalities to accelerate the implementation of its National Development Plan II that place wetlands at the center of efforts. We are working with Government to develop a Presidential Initiative on Wetlands that will help to accelerate the delivery of a comprehensive response to the needs of people in communities close to Wetlands. This initiative will look at how to improve the livelihoods of those who live close to wetlands by providing them with skills for alternative livelihoods, education on crop diversification and conservation agriculture techniques. This initiative is intended to enable the youth and community leaders to be at the forefront of efforts to improve the ecosystem services of the wetlands and their associated catchments through protection of natural forests climate resilient farming.

Protecting the environment is an intricate part of every culture. Each and everyone of us has a role to play in ensuring that Wetlands remain part of Uganda’s history, landscape and heritage for generations to come.
I, therefore, invite every Ugandan – whoever you are, and wherever you live. Let us join hands to restore and conserve wetlands and reduce the risk of disaster in this country. Let’s transform this risk into an opportunity for sustainable development and economic transformation.

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Farmers and uncertain weather

The rain season that was expected to begin in September last year in most parts of Uganda started quite late in mid-October 2016 and ended well before Christmas. Since then to date the country has undergone a biting dry spell that has destroyed crops and pasture. The great majority of farmers face tough times ahead but most importantly, the country faces severe food shortage and reduced national income.

The executive director of National Union of Coffee Agro-businesses and Farm Enterprises (Nucafe) Joseph Nkandu recently told Seeds of Gold that, due to the ongoing dry spell, Robusta coffee production may reduce by more than 40 per cent and we may not get the expected annual output. He said, “This translates into lower income for farmers and reduced foreign exchange earnings for the country.”

Due to the drought, there are no weeds growing in the fields and there is no harvesting going on for most households. Some people have prepared the ground and keep watching the sky for rain signs.

Many do not even know how to get the seeds when the rains begin. They have difficulties feeding their families and malnutrition is a real threat.

It is hard to feed livestock. Thousands have resorted to cultivating crops in wetlands where some water still exists but this is forbidden by the law. The practice is said to render wetlands dry.

We could be at the beginning of what looks likely to be a difficult process. Some religious leaders are holding public prayers for rain to fall. Government has increased its tree planting campaign.

However trees, like crops, require rain to grow. Many leaders advise irrigation but there is growing evidence that our rivers and streams are drying up­—the reason Lake Victoria and River Nile are enlisted among the world’s shrinking water bodies together with all rivers from Mt Kenya, most lakes in Kenya, Tanzania’s Lake Natron and Lake Manyara ( has not heard about Lake Chad which used to be 17,800 square kilometres some 20 years ago and is today 1,500 square kilometres? Declining water in lakes and rivers negatively impacts on fisheries and aquaculture.

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Gap training of Nakatii

Nakati is one of the vegetables which grows in a variety of soils and can perform for a long period of time compared to other vegetables say, tomatoes and cabbages. This implies that they can be readily available and are sustainable. Nakati requires less labour and is easy to grow because it does not involve a lot of technical agronomic practices. This crop serves a lot of nutrients for example minerals, vitamins A and C which are vital for vision. Due to the above, the QSA beneficiaries need this crop to improve on their diet which will lead to good health. The purpose of this training was to equip the farmers with the knowledge of growing nakati both on large and small scale (kitchen gardens) so as to improve on their diet.

Meaning of GAP, this stands for Good Agronomic Practices. These are the recommended steps which should be followed in order to have improved agricultural produce. These are divided into GAP while in the nursery bed and Gap in the main garden. The practices in the nursery bed include the following;
Nursery bed preparation: where the seeds are sown to enable their germination before transplanting them to the main garden. This should be smooth enough to enable a higher germination percentage. Large/rough soil particles will hinder germination. The bed should be located a water source to ease the process of watering. Soil sterilization should be done in the nursery bed to kill soil borne pests and other disease causing agents which can be harmful to the seeds or seedlings.
Sowing of the seed should be done. Lines should be made in the bed and sowing in line facilitates easy transplanting, avoids overcrowding that could lead to competition for water and nutrients in addition to proper seed rate per bed.
After sowing, watering should be done immediately to provide the seed with enough moisture. Regular watering and monitoring of the bed should be done.
The bed should be covered with grass to reduce on loss of soil moisture through evaporation.
After seed germination, a shade should be constructed running East to West to avoid direct sunlight on to the seedlings which can lead to their drying.
As the seedlings grow hardening off should be done gradually so that the seedlings get acclimatized to the harsh environment.
Transplanting to the main garden should be done after two weeks.

In the main garden the following practices should be conducted
Early field preparation which encompasses primary and secondary planting. During this time all the tree stumps should be removed as these could harbor pests and other disease causing agents that can cause harm to the crops leading to great losses.
Planting in line at a spacing of 10x15cm or 20x20cm depending on the variety or soil fertility.
Weeding should always be done to prevent competition between nakati and weeds for sunlight, water, space and nutrients. This also reduces on chances of pest and disease infestation as some weeds may hour them.
A fertilizer (leaf booster) can be added to enable high yields.
Spray with a recommended pesticide incase leaf eaters show up.
First harvesting can be done at two months. This can continue for five more times.
The training was successful
All farmers were ready to establish kitchen gardens
The farmers cannot do nakati production on a large scale
Way forward
More training during the process should be conducted especially on pest and disease control.

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Vocational students supported by Eco-Agric Uganda

Vocational students supported by Eco-Agric Uganda recently participated in a one day workshop at our training center in Hoima where they learned new skills like how to make RUMPs (reusable menstrual pads) and how to make a business plan. RUMPs are an affordable and sustainable way to support proper sanitation practices in girls and can also be used as an income generating activity.

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Horticulture Collaborative

Beginning September 2012, U.S. graduate students will travel to Feed the Future focus countries to work on projects led by in-country organizations to support smallholder farmers growing fruits and vegetables, thanks to 14 newly funded projects from the Horticulture Collaborative Research Support Program (CRSP) at the University of California, Davis

The students are participating in the Horticulture CRSP Trellis Fund, which matches students pursuing advanced agricultural degrees with organizations that are engaged with local farmers. Funding is provided by the U.S. Agency for International Development.

“The Horticulture CRSP Trellis Fund is really building capacity at both ends,” said Amanda Crump, Horticulture CRSP associate director. “We hope that this experience opens students’ eyes to the reality of food security issues internationally as they continue their agricultural careers. And we believe these projects support the organizations’ capability to conduct research and build trust with university representatives, who can provide unbiased, up-to-date scientific information.”

In the first round of Trellis Fund projects completed earlier this year, 10 UC Davis students supported projects throughout the developing world with a combined 124 training meetings, 1,935 farmer participants and 10 demonstration plots.