A rapidly growing urban population coupled with good rainfall, lucrative vegetable and fruit sector in Uganda.
And yet the business is struggling to find a footing in a country gifted by nature thanks to apathy by majority of the population to consume vegetables and fruits, as well as the absence of a national strategy to boost this potentially multi-billion dollar industry.
According Dr. Onesmus Ssemalulu, a researcher at the National Agricultural Research Laboratories (NARL) at Kawanda, Ugandans on average consume just a third of the 400gm of vegetables and fruits recommended by the World Health Organisation and the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO).
But scientists warn that low intake of vegetables and fruits is not only denying farmers a chance to make money, but that it is exposing majority of the population to serious diseases such as cancer, heart disease and obesity.
With increasing cases of cancers, heart diseases as well as the high prevalence of malnutrition among the Ugandan population, there is concern that ducking vegetable consumption is having more serious consequences on the economy such as increased expenditure on health, reduced productivity due to ill-health and lost income and jobs that can lift millions wallowing in poverty.
Thanks however to support from the government of South Korea, through its Korea Programme on International Agriculture (KOPIA), there is hope that vegetable and fruit production will improve in the near future and bring smiles on the faces of farmers as well as consumers.
KOPIA has recorded two important achievements in Uganda’s horticultural sector. The introduction of a fruit processing factory in Soroti, coupled with mechanisms to reduce disease burden on citrus farms as well as introduce better yielding citrus varieties in the area promises to turn the east into a vibrant fruit producing region.
The second and perhaps even more important achievement has been the introduction of a project for increasing vegetable production as well as supporting local scientists to expand their knowledge on vegetable and fruit seed production.
Besides the ongoing construction of a fruit processing factory, KOPIA working with researchers from the National Agricultural Research Organisation have identified major diseases that hamper citrus production but also developed control measures for the crop.
According to Dr. John Adriko, a researcher with NARO, addressing disease challenges has the potential to boost citrus production in Soroti where 50 percent of farmers say that diseases and pests are the biggest challenges.
Promoting vegetables in Wakiso
Besides fruits, KOPIA has supported the development of vegetable production in Wakiso and Nakaseke districts first by highlighting their benefits for health but also as a source of income.
KOPIA’s outgoing director Dr. Jee Hyeong-Jin told The Sunrise that apart from promoting vegetable production, his project endeavours to improve vegetable seed production starting with easy vegetables such as Amaranthus (Doodo) to the more difficult ones such as cabbages.
In addition, Jee noted that because of Uganda’s favourable climatic conditions, some Korean seed companies have expressed interest in establishing seed production enterprises for both the Ugandan market as well the Korean market.
With improved seed quality, availability and a sensitized population on the benefits of vegetables, hopes are high that Ugandans will live healthier lives and increased options out of poverty.