The Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International’s (CABI) experts in communication and extension working with the National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO) and partners have played a key role in helping banana farmers in Uganda and Tanzania reap a 64% increase in yields — from 10 metric tons per hectare per year to 19 metric tons per hectare per year — worth an extra $8.15 million a year.
The successes — highlighted as part of a summary of the five-year Improving Banana Agronomy Practices for Small Scale Farmers in Highland Banana Cropping Systems East Africa project funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation – also included two farmers, one in Isingiro, Uganda, and one in Bukoba, Tanzania, who were able to build a house and a new goat unit with their increased yields and profits.
In total, 47,650 people were reached by trained scaling agents — through a range of communication methods and extension services — over the course of the banana agronomy project, which was led by NARO and implemented in partnership with the Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute (TARI), Bioversity International, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Makerere University and CABI.
As part of this project, the CABI project team, with support from the Africa Soil Health Consortium (ASHC), planned and executed dissemination campaigns and provided hands-on training for developing communication materials, including pretesting materials with farmers.
The ultimate aim was to improve the banana agronomy practices for small-scale farmers in the highland cropping systems of East Africa where bananas are both a staple food and the economic backbone of farmers and their families in the target countries.
The project team worked in Uganda and Tanzania to help extension workers and farmers learn more about better site selection to grow their crops, as well as enhanced land preparation, appropriate spacing, mulching, improved varieties, water and soil conservation and pest and disease control management, among others.
In Tanzania, a banana calendar — to guide farmers through activities for each month of the year — and an extension guide and banana poster were developed. In order to increase the reach and value of the communication materials, scaling agents were given copies of the materials and were trained in their use to, in turn, train farmers.
Nearly 70% of the scaling agents surveyed rated the banana calendar as the most useful followed by the banana poster (50%) and extension guide (21%).
Meanwhile in Uganda, a 12-week radio campaign had been conducted earlier before the onset of farmer trainings and later on banana drama production that was screened to a limited audience. This was in addition to a Grow Bananas Better extension guide and Banana Agronomy Story Chart in English and local languages.
Among the trained scaling agents, 60% surveyed said the extension guide was most useful to them because of the detailed information it provided, followed by a story chart (57%) that has illustrations and translated to local languages, radio campaign (32%) and banana drama (10%), due to the limited access to the drama and radio campaign recordings.
Topics most covered during the farmer training in Tanzania were pest and disease management (70%) while in Uganda plant nutrition was focused on the most (39%).
Both Tanzania and Ugandan farmers found the most useful topics to be pests and disease management, plant nutrition, soil and water conservation and planting.
Christine Alokit, communication and extension scientist for CABI based in Uganda, said, “Overall, all agents in both countries found the materials useful — particularly materials with less text, more illustrations and when translated to local languages.
“We found that print materials were easier to use but that the banana drama and radio campaign in Uganda were used less due to limited access to the recordings and that information on pests and diseases was the most covered sub topic but difficult to understand by farmers.
“This could be addressed by further training as well as a review on the use of materials to address gaps and confirm accuracy of content as delivered by the scaling agents.”
The Banana Agronomy Project Review Meeting also considered the leveraging of information and communications technology (ICT) in improving access to learning through digital tools — in transitioning from paper to digital tools for data collection.
It is believed that, on average, $275,644 could be saved by using digital extension services — such as a mobile app — rather than printed forms of communication materials that would be more expensive but complements the online resources.
Examples, cited at the review meeting, included the online Uganda Banana Farmers Group which one farmer said is useful as members are willing to help each other in respect of better banana growing practices.
Project team on a visit to Mamsera banana market, Rombo, Tanzania (Photo Credit: Daphine Kamusigize).
See the Banana Agronomy Project Video on the National Banana Research Program YouTube channel for a summary of the project’s successes.
Find out more from the project page, Improving Banana Agronomy Practices for Small Scale Farmers in East Africa.
Banana Systems in the Humid Highlands of Sub-Saharan Africa: Enhancing Resilience and Productivity, edited by G. Blomme, Bioversity, Uganda; B. Vanlauwe, Tropical Soil Biology and Fertility Programme, Nairobi, Kenya; and P. van Asten, IITA, Uganda, CABI, 2013.
Bananas and Plantains, by J. Robinson, South Africa and V. Galán Saúco, Instituto Canario de Investigaciones Agrarias, Tenerife, CABI, 2010.