In Summary
  • There are crops from South American center in countries such as Bolivia and Ecuador, Brazil include starchy sweet maize, Irish Potato, tomatoes, pumpkins, common beans, tobacco, sunflower, guava, rubber tree, pineapple and groundnuts
  • Plants of African origin particularly from Abyssinia, Ethiopian highlands include hard wheat, barley, sorghum, pearl millet and finger millet is of Ugandan origin. Others are cow pea, flux, Eragrostis tef grain crop, simsim, coffee, okra and duty mallow and some rice species

Breeding agricultural products for improvement is not a recent technology because scientists in the entire globe have been doing it over a long period of time mainly for purposes of improvement for the benefit of farmers and consumers.

This started with mankind domesticating crops and animals from the wild and later application of conventional and use of modern biotechnology where GM products are now being bred. In conducting this, Uganda is not being left out because breeding using all the technologies is going on in Uganda’s Agricultural Research Institutes across the country.

This was the major discussion by Scientists from the National Agriculture Research Organisation (Naro) and the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovations during a one day sensitization meeting for Science Journalists in Kampala last week.

The Minister of Science, Technology and Innovations Dr Elyoda Tumwesigye addressing journalists from a cross section of media houses in a training meeting organized by Science Foundation for Livelihoods and Development (Scifode) in partnership with Naro noted that there is a little of ignorance among Ugandan population about agriculture science and the elite are confusing farmers who are practicing agriculture to better their livelihoods.

“We should not give a wrong impression to the farming community and the entire Ugandan community that the president rejected the Biosafety Act. He is simply seeking for clarity over a few clauses of the law and we are already addressing it at Parliament. Issues regarding conservation of indigenous agricultural products including animals are already being done by a number of genetic resource centres in the country,”

He explained that people are unable to differentiate between open pollinated varieties, hybrid varieties and GMO’s which he said is wrong. To him Uganda is better off having the Biosafety law because it is addressing a number of issues including import of GMO food items into the country as well regulate scientific innovations in the country in the agriculture and food chain.

“Science is advancing globally; developed countries have already discovered techniques for capturing sunlight wave length for photosynthesis to take place in plants growing where there is no direct sunshine. In the health sector a lot is ongoing meaning Uganda has to advance in science innovations with the rest of the world,” he noted.

The Executive Director Mr Arthur Makara explaining the breeding process of plants using the various technologies said most plants people are refereeing to as indigenous were brought to Uganda by traders and adopted in the country. This include banana, cassava, all varieties of beans and fruits. What is indigenous to Africa and Uganda is millet, a particular rice variety, Sorghum, cow pea and simsim.

Giving the importance of plant breeding he noted that scientists breed for a number of reasons namely, for farmers to get high yield, improve quality of plants, improve nutrition, and eliminate toxic substance in plants and for resistance of pests, diseases and drought stress.

Mr Henry Wagaba a scientist from the National Crop Resources Research Institute (NaCRRI) giving example of cassava breeding pointed out that scientists at Naro have bred over 20 cassava varieties using conventional mechanism against cassava Mosiac Virus and Cassava Brown Streak Virus which farmers are growing in different parts of the country to better their livelihoods.

To him plants bred using modern Biotechnology will be part of a solution to solve issues of food insecurity and this will be used hand in hand with existing technologies.

Origin of various plants and the different centres where they are conserved

Mr Wagaba explained that scientists globally use the same principle during breeding process of crops especially when applying modern biotechnology techniques. Scientists use same principle although the biology of each plant differs.

It starts from picking genes from resistance from small tender leaves in case of cassava breeding. 

For instance maize takes 4 months to grow and scientists use crossing of genes when improving the plant for resistance against diseases but for cassava it takes about 9 months to mature and scientists silence the bad genes and it may be difficult to get a variety which is pure clean due to the plants mix in the biological set up.

According to him the most affected farmer fields in terms of CBSV infection is in central Uganda surrounding L. victoria basin because the area is humid and harbors a lot of vectors.

Mr Makara explaining the origin of a number of crops outlined them into 8 major centres quoting the Vavilov Center of diversity which is a region of the world’s first original center for domestication as indicated by Nikolai Vavilov known as Vovilov plant centers.

Plants of African origin particularly from Abyssinia, Ethiopian highlands include hard wheat, barley, sorghum, pearl millet and finger millet is of Ugandan origin. Others are cow pea, flux, Eragrostis tef grain crop, simsim, coffee, okra and duty mallow and some rice species.

Plants originating from South America in countries such as Mexico, Guatemala and Costa Rica among others include Maize, common beans, pumpkin, cotton, sweet potato, guava, pawpaw, cashew nut, cocoa and Amaranth vegetable species.

There are crops from South American center in countries such as Bolivia and Ecuador, Brazil include starchy sweet maize, Irish Potato, tomatoes, pumpkins, common beans, tobacco, sunflower, guava, rubber tree, pineapple and groundnuts.

The Mediterranean center covering European countries comprise of crops such as oats, cabbages, Lettuce vegetable variety, pepper, wheat and asparagus.

Plants from Middle East Centre include durham and pollard wheat variety, common wheat, Alfalfa, Apple and pear.

The Central Asia centre comprises of Wheat, pears, chick pea, simsim, cotton, onions, garlic, carrots, grapes and apples.

The Indian Center has rice, pigeon pea, egg plants, cucumber, yams, mangoes, oranges, tamarind, sugarcane, coconut, palm trees, cotton tree, black pepper, cinnamon and bamboo.

The Chinese centre has the following crops, barley, Chinese yam, Chinese cabbage, onions, pear, apple, sugarcane, opium and cucumber.

Some plants originate from different centres with a difference in varieties.

alominda@ug.nationmedia.com