By Jimmy Siyasa
Renowned for its research excellence, the Uganda Christian University (UCU) Faculty of Agricultural Sciences, previously led by Prof. Elizabeth Kizito, proudly presents three extraordinary varieties of Solanum aethiopicum shum, commonly known as nakati – the beloved African eggplant.
Introduced as the UCU-Nakati 1, UCU-Nakati 2, and UCU-Nakati 3, these innovative nakati varieties mark a significant milestone in Uganda and Africa. The varieties offer farmers a reliable and easily accessible source of African nakati seed. Previously, nakati farmers relied on saved seeds from previous seasons or obtained them from neighbors, friends, and relatives, leading to limited availability and inconsistent quality. One will no longer need to rely on uncertain or unreliable sources as UCU’s nakati varieties ensure consistent quality and ample supply for farming needs.
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The development of these nakati varieties involved making crosses over multiple generations, meticulous selection, and ensuring distinctiveness, and uniformity for improved yield and desirable plant characteristics. Each variety has been carefully tailored to meet the expectations of farmers and consumers, incorporating valuable feedback from end-users and thorough market surveys.
These varieties have received certification by the National Variety Release Committee: A Committee of the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry, and Fisheries, ensuring the highest standards of excellence.
Characteristics of the Nakati varieties
Each of the varieties has unique characteristics.
UCU-Nakati 1 is green-stemmed, has green leaves and leaf veins, and the leaf margins (the boundary area of the leaf that is extending along the edge of the leaf) are generally whole. Nakati-1 is not drought tolerant. In sensory evaluations with consumers and market vendors, it was found to be relatively bitter. Its average yield per acre is 982.4 kg/acre.
UCU-Nakati 2 has green, purple stems, green leaves, and green leaf veins. The leaf margins are moderately serrated. Nakati-2 has green-purple stems and green leaf blades. The mean fresh leaf yield at harvest is 936.9 kg/acre. Nakati-2 was identified as a drought-tolerant genotype. In sensory evaluations with consumers and market vendors, products had a generally appealing aroma, appearance, and flavour.
UCU-Nakati 3, on the other hand, is purple-stemmed, has green leaves with green-purple leaf veins, and has a deeper serrated leaf margin. The leaf yield at harvest maturity, about 8 weeks after planting, is 976.3 kg/acre. Nakati-3 is moderately drought tolerant and has a generally appealing aroma, appearance and flavour in sensory evaluations with consumers and market vendors.
Implications and Applications
The potential impact on the field or society
The implications of these groundbreaking developments are far-reaching. Previously, there were limited systematic efforts to improve African Indigenous Vegetables (AIVs) in Uganda. The new nakati varieties are the first of their kind. UCU has developed nutritionally rich improved varieties of nakati. This intervention will not only offer farmers quality-assured varieties of AIVs but also set standards for subsequent variety evaluation for distinctiveness, uniformity, and stability (DUS) as well as value for cultivation and use. Releasing these varieties brings to the fore, especially for Africans, the availability of quality seed to meet nutritional and income security needs because these can now be potentially accessed in agro-shops or stores, something that was impossible until recently.
Practical applications and real-world scenarios
With over 200 tons of nakati traded weekly in major markets, this crop plays a crucial role in Uganda’s urban and peri-urban areas, surpassing even the country’s main cash crop – coffee. The popularity of nakati extends beyond Uganda, reaching Cameroon, Burkina Faso and Nigeria. Its nutritional and economic value makes it an indispensable part of traditional dishes and a means of livelihood for poor and unemployed women and youth.
AIVs such as the UCU Nakati varieties, hold immense practical applications and can address real-world challenges in achieving sustainable development goals (SDGs). These vegetables have the potential to alleviate hidden hunger (SDG 2 – End hunger) and poverty (SDG 1 – Zero poverty), particularly among vulnerable groups like women and children under five. In Uganda, a country with high levels of undernutrition, where 3 in 10 children under five are stunted and about 3.5% body wasting, the nutritional value of nakati is significant. It is rich in fiber, minerals, carotene, proteins, fats, ash, crude fiber, carbohydrates, calcium, magnesium, iron, and phytochemicals with therapeutic properties, making it essential in preventing nutrient deficiency diseases and non-communicable diseases. By improving crop varieties and enhancing productivity and incomes for farmers, poverty reduction and improved food security can be achieved, as farmers who cultivate improved varieties often earn more and enjoy better livelihoods.
Dr. Ssebuliba James, agronomist and former head of the Department of Crop Production at Makerere University College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences:
- “This is a great addition to knowledge. Research plays a crucial role in the addition of new knowledge, which ultimately advances our understanding of the world and contributes to various areas of daily life. When new knowledge is curated and put in the right hands, it has the power to bring about high-value change in society.”
Dr. Godfrey Asea, Director of Research, National Crops Resources Research Institute, Namulonge:
- “This is a good opportunity as a starting point to harness the indigenous vegetable resources.”
Dr. Flavia Kabeere, Seed Technologist and Consultant:
- “These varieties will guarantee quality for consumers.”
Collaborations and Funding
The UCU community, leadership, and researchers (Prof. Elizabeth Kizito, Dr. Sseremba Godfrey, Mildred Nakanwagi, and Pamel Kabod) expressed appreciation to the European Union, PAEPARD (Platform for African-European Partnership in Agricultural Research for Development) and The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS) for their valuable support. Funding from the EU through PAEPARD initiated this research, while TWAS contributed to basic research and the selection of drought-tolerant varieties.
Call to Action
Others are invited to delve deeper into this groundbreaking research and its potential applications. Seed companies or other stakeholders interested in the multiplication of seeds are invited to place their orders. For more information, visit the Directorate of Research, Partnerships and Innovation website (https://grants.ucu.ac.ug) or directly contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
- UCU researchers develop three Nakati varieties UCU-Nakati 1; UCU-Nakati 2; UCU-Nakati 3; with immense promise for enhancing food security, reducing poverty, and promoting better health in Uganda and Africa.
- Nakati is considered an African Indigenous Vegetable.
- Nakati is one of the most important local vegetable species in terms of providing income and food in urban and peri-urban areas of Uganda.