By Christopher Bendana
It is easy to provide good seed than provide irrigation to farmers – top ag scientist.
A leading Ugandan scientist at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center (DDPSC) in Missouri in the United States has advised on the options to increase agricultural productivity in Uganda.
Dr. Andrew Kiggundu, a biotechnologist and VIRCA Plus project coordinator at the DDPSC told agricultural journalists attending a media bio cafe at Fairway Hotel in Kampala on Friday that promoting the adoption of drought-tolerant seed was an easier task than constructing an irrigation infrastructure.
“You can’t provide irrigation to every farmer, but you can provide seed,” he said. “All farming households in Uganda could be connected by pipes one day. But, two things in the meantime. Genetic engineering can help secure some of the yield loss due to drought. Drought is not the only problem. Crop pest and diseases can’t be solved by irrigation water, genetic engineering can deliver resistance.”
Vincent Mugabi, an agriculturalist at Mbarara Municipal Council with extensive agricultural community mobilization in Bucuro sub-county Mbarara district who joined the debate by phone from Mbarara more so agreed with Kiggundu. He argued that farmers can afford improved seed themselves, but that irrigation needed much government support in terms of initial finance.
The media bio cafe organized by the Science Foundation for Livelihoods and Development (SCIFODE) and Uganda Biotechnology and Biosafety Consortium (UBBC) brings agricultural journalists on a round table to discuss the latest developments in the agricultural sector and bio-economy.
Ugandan scientists working under the National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO) have developed drought-tolerant seed in Uganda’s staples such as maize.
The National Crops Resources Research Institute Namulonge (NaCRRI), a NARO institute has developed several series of upland rice that can grow on uplands and slopes. Ordinary rice is a lowland crop grown mainly in swampy areas.
NaCRRI has also developed drought-tolerant maize varieties using both traditional and genetic engineering. Those developed conventional like the ‘bazooka’ has been largely adopted, giving many farmers a lifeline.
VIRCA+, the Virus Resistance Cassava for Africa Plus is a program meant to provide disease-free and nutrition enhanced cassava seed to small scale farmers in Africa. It is currently researching in Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria, and the USA.
At NaCCRI the breeding has focused on resistant against two virulent diseases. The most lethal Cassava Brown Streak and Cassava Mosaic Disease.
Dr. Kiggundu said they were looking at extending the program to Rwanda, Malawi, and Mozambique.