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NARO plant breeders stuck without research funds

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Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | A section of plant breeders at the National Agriculture Research Organization are stranded without funding for integrated research in strategic crops grown and consumed across the country.

Some of the researchers require funds to travel to foreign countries to collect samples for improving domestic varieties they deem susceptible to drought, pests and diseases. The varieties include soybeans, sunflowers, simsim, cotton and groundnuts.

Dr Walter O. Anyanga, a Senior Research Scientist who is breeding simsim and sunflower varieties at NARO’s Natural Semi-Arid Resources Research Institute (NASARRI) in Serere district, says they need the funds to collaborate on research, facilitate logistics and introduce desired traits from foreign countries where similar crop varieties are cultivated in view of increasing production and values of the crops.

Alex Lwakuba, the Commissioner of Crops at the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries says the financial basket for research in strategic crops ran dry after some donors pulled out.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, crop failures resulting from persistent droughts, floods and poor seed accounts for billions of annual food losses around the world under changing climatic conditions. In order to avert such disasters and feed the growing world population, it says plant breeders must continuously innovate or search for sustainable solutions.

Lwakuba says that the government is negotiating with the International Funds for Agricultural Development to resume funding of the plant breeders.

The absence of funding is affecting crops which have no International centres compared to their counterparts with International Centers. Dr Anyanga says the lack of funding has frustrated research in Sesame and Sunflower the most.

In Uganda, Dr Anyanga says the last high yielding Simsim variety having very high oil content was last released onto the market in 2013 for cultivation in Northern Uganda. Farmers in the region refer to it as Organic Simsim for it requires no spraying during its growth.

With the influx of new pests such as falls armyworms ravaging African Maize fields, Dr Anyanga says the government needs to treat crop research with utmost seriousness to insulate farmers from starvation. He says Sesame – III is known to be vulnerable to a group of pests known as the Gold Mitch which attacks at flowering stage of the plant leading to a drastic decline in production.

He says sesame is also vulnerable to Webb Worms and Caterpillars which attack in the third week of germination. Unless controlled, the pests are capable of reducing the quality and quantity of grains produced.

According to Dr Anyanga, Uganda’s Sesame export is considered a premium product in the World Market for being Cholesterol free. The crop he says is used in the manufacture of perfumes, body sprays, animal feeds as well as high energy giving cakes consumed in cold countries.

Dr Anyanga says crop research involves several disciplines including entomologists analyzing impacts of flies, social economists studying the perception of farmers and agronomists looking at the science of planting as well as plant breeders developing new varieties.

He adds that plant breeding is different from the development of Genetically modified organisms. He says they develop the new varieties by crossing wild varieties with domestic varieties.

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