Q&A with ARN Researcher: Prof. Robert Kajobe

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Our November ALL-IN Research Network member spotlight features Professor Robert Kajobe from Muni University, in Uganda.

Tell us a little about yourself?

I am Robert Kajobe, a research professor and the director of Graduate Training, Research, and Innovation at Muni University. Muni is one of the public universities of Uganda, located in Arua City, West Nile. Before taking this current position, I served in Muni University as the dean of the Faculty of Agriculture and Environmental Science. Earlier on, I worked at the National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO) of Uganda in various capacities including being the founding director of NARO – Rwebitaba Zonal Agricultural Research and Development Institute. The institute is one of the public agriculture research institutes under NARO of Uganda.

I am a result-driven, self-motivated and resourceful academic with a proven ability to develop and strengthen teams in order to maximise outputs. I develop clear strategies for their successful completion. I am a highly innovative leader with an extensive scientific background. I have proven ability to generate innovative agricultural technologies and to offer technical expertise internationally. I have excellent communication skills and I am able to establish sustainable relationships with stakeholders across the world. I am also a skilled mentor and coach. My accomplished career highlights over 20 years’ experience in research, agricultural policy analysis, leadership, human resources management, resource mobilisation, and organisational development in universities, agricultural research organisations, NGOs, and in the private sector.

What are some of your research interests and why are you passionate about them?

I am passionate about agricultural and natural resource management issues in areas discussing regenerative and inclusive food systems, climate change, and improvement of the livelihoods of our people.

When it comes to current projects, I am currently the Principal Investigator of a project titled “Development of innovative horticulture technologies for improved income and livelihoods among small-scale women farmers in Uganda”.

The project is coordinated by Muni University and its partners, including Omia Agribusiness Development Group and Arua’s local government. It is funded by USAID and contributes towards the Feed the Future Horticulture Innovation Lab program, focused on transforming the horticulture sector in Uganda. The overall objective of the project is to develop innovative horticulture technologies for improved income and livelihoods among small scale women farmers in Uganda. This is because horticulture plays an important role in food security, employment opportunities, and income generation in Uganda.

Our intended impact of the project is to improve the livelihoods of small-scale vegetable farmers and have an increased financial independence of small-scale vegetable farmers.

The project has been implemented in five refugee-hosting districts in West Nile. We involve the refugees and the host communities. Most of the refugees come from Southern Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

I am also actively involved in another project aimed to contribute to food systems transformation by fostering Regenerative, Inclusive Food Systems (RIFS) in Uganda. RIFS are expected to contribute to healthy ecosystems, resilient food systems, a fair and inclusive transformation process, and access to affordable and nutritious food for all. They also aim to inspire caring communities and, therefore, improve livelihoods. In this project, we are working to achieve zero waste from the farm.

The project works to achieve circularity in resource management by optimizing resource use and minimizing resource loss and wastage in a mixed farming system. Waste generated on the farm from residuals of agricultural biomass and food processing are valuable renewable resources and kept within the farming system as inputs. The different subsystems within the farm—which include piggery, dairy cattle, rabbitry, black soldier fly larvae and frass fertilizer production, vegetable production, and aquaculture—are set to be interdependent.

What are the most interesting research findings from your work so far?

The project on development of innovative horticulture technologies for improved income and livelihoods among small-scale women farmers in Uganda is in its initial stage. However, the preliminary results show that there is a high demand for horticulture commodities in the region. Currently, the West Nile region imports close to 72% of horticultural products from the other parts of Uganda. The major vegetables produced in the region include tomatoes, cow peas, cabbages, okra, onions, sweet pepper, and other traditional vegetables.

From our baseline study, the yearly vegetable loss and waste by quantity sometimes reached 70% and even more. These perishable foods start to deteriorate as soon as they are harvested. They lose weight, texture, flavour, nutritional value, and appeal.

According to the discussions with the farmers, such high losses are a result of poor pre-harvest management, poor harvesting techniques, poor post-harvest handling, surpluses in production, and lack of market access for the harvested produce. One of our objectives is to evaluate different postharvest practices for reduced loses in vegetables. Under this, one of the innovations we will test is the efficacy of the Coolbot cold storage technology in West Nile region. We are in the process of installing an off-grid solar-powered CoolBot cold room in Arua City.

What are some challenges you face in your industry?

In West Nile, we have the challenge of climate change and unfavorable environmental factors. Issues of unpredictable weather patterns, diseases, and pest outbreaks due to climate change are impacting crops and research outcomes. We also face the problem of inadequate extension services.

Extending research findings and knowledge to local farmers is challenging due to inadequate extension services or outreach programs. Some farmers are facing the problem of resources such as irrigation equipment, greenhouses, and other equipment and tools.

The problem of bridging the gap between research findings and practical application in the market has not been fully addressed. Policies on use of agro inputs are not being fully implemented by the government. Some farmers are unable to take up or scale up the innovations due to insufficient technical knowledge.

What is the most promising and /or exciting part of your research work?

The most exciting part of our research work is the use of the Embedded Research Translation approach. This is an iterative co-design process among the researchers, farmers, and other stakeholders in which research is intentionally applied to solve a problem.

All farmers and other stakeholders are integrated early in and throughout the research collaboration. The research solutions are tailor-generated for the project so that outcomes are more readily taken up and applied.

We have established a collaborative partnership process to ensure a solid foundation for working together effectively on the project. We ensure that important translation products are created. Such products include briefs, training guides and videos, which can facilitate recommendations in policy, feasibility, and implementation approaches. We have included a dissemination plan which enables wider application and scale-up beyond the initial translation partnership and toward a larger uptake of findings. We built farmers’ capacity through targeted training and networks and redeployed these farmers to train their networks and other farmers in the community, thereby scaling their locally tested innovations.

In this undertaking, other participants receive training in soil fertility management, zero waste principles, identification of good seed, and vegetable production as a whole. Another exciting part of our research work is the inclusivity bit. We work with all categories of people including women, youth, men, and refugees and their host communities. We also work with other stakeholders including the local governments, other researchers, financial institutions, and market vendors.