By Paul Ndiho
Peanut, also commonly known as groundnut in East Africa is one of Uganda’s staple crops. It’s rich in protein, oil and other essential minerals. The food item has increasingly become a cash crop as it transforms agriculture in Uganda, benefiting hundreds of mostly female farmers.
Peanut or groundnut is cultivated in the semi-arid and tropical regions of nearly 100 countries. It’s an important legume that is consumed worldwide. In sub-Saharan Africa, peanuts are the principle source of digestible protein, cooking oil, and vitamins. The crop is also a significant source of income for many families across the region. David Kalule Okello, a senior researcher at the national agricultural research organization (NARO), heads groundnuts improvement program in Uganda.
“Groundnuts is actually one of the most important legumes in Uganda, if you look at it from the point of the capital household consumption, it is the most important because it the type of food, the way people grow it here it is embedded in their culture, so it is a very important crop, it’s very rich in energy and protein and it also enriches the soil, such as the substance crop which follows it benefits from the nitrogen.”
Over the years, peanut crops have suffered from numerous pests, diseases and erratic climate changing patterns. However, Okello and other researchers have been working hard to improve the varieties and so far, they’ve released about 10 varieties that are pest and disease resistant. Okello is charged with ensuring that the country is adequately supplied with the right quantity and quality of the crop. That job includes developing drought-tolerant, pest-resistant varieties of the crop. And says that whatever they are doing is having a direct impact on the people.
“If you look at the contribution to the household income, there was a study done and submitted in 2006, which says that adopting these new released varieties reduces poverty by 7 to 9%, that one is quite substantial. And then they found that actually if such varieties are sold their income increases from 130 to 250 dollars by hector. So this finding actually shows you that improving groundnuts can actually bring income to the nation and households.”
Researchers say peanuts are an important, high-protein food crop in the country, as well as a valuable cash crop, because the nuts can be processed into a variety of products from peanut butter and pastes to oil. Farmers are getting better yields from their harvest and the instead of the crop heading to dinner table, it’s destined to the markets for sale.
“The crop has suddenly moved from being subsistence to commercial. So with that comes the issue of value addition, so it’s very common now to find rusted peanuts, peanut butter, flour and then other blends all over the place. And this is an area where we think if properly supported it can bring lots of money, improvement on the livelihood of people. Also another area which we are seeing the groundnut is the prom peanut, this is a therapeutic food, which we think if supported there’s not need importing it, we can make it locally here.”
Peanut roots form modules, which absorb nitrogen from the air, and provide enrichment and nutrition to the plant and soils. Peanuts require little input, making it appropriate for cultivation in low input agriculture by growers with small farms. The crop is mostly grown in sub Saharan Africa as a subsistence crop under rain-fed conditions as compared to developed countries like the United States where it’s grown commercially.