Improving yields, resistance to pests and diseases, or tolerance to other stresses, through conventional breeding or biotechnology. Plus on-farm practices for improved production.
For subsistence and smallholder farmers, buying improved maize seed, such as hybrid varieties, is a gamble. If rains fail, they can lose not only their crop, but also the savings they have invested in the seed. In response, the Drought Tolerant Maize for Africa (DTMA) project is developing open pollinated varieties of maize which have shorter maturity and offer high yields. They are also cheaper for seed companies to multiply, and therefore can be sold at a more affordable price. Wilfred Mwangi of DTMA and Dellings Phiri of Seed Co Malawi discuss the new varieties, and their growing popularity.
published: November 2010
Through genetic engineering, scientists in Uganda have developed banana plants that show high levels of resistance to banana xanthomonas wilt. The resistance is created by inserting two genes from green pepper plants into banana. Following successful trials in the laboratory and in greenhouses, the Ugandan authorities have now given permission for confined field trials. If successful, new wilt resistant bananas could be available to farmers within 3-4 years, assuming they are given the necessary approval. The genes have already been used to provide resistance to bacterial and fungal diseases in other crops, such as rice and some vegetables. Dr Leena Tripathi from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) explains more.
published: October 2010
Uganda is to host a new research centre for Robusta coffee. The World Robusta Coffee Centre of Excellence will house research facilities for all aspects of coffee production and processing. Dr Africano Kangire of Uganda's Coffee Research Institute explains how the centre will be a valuable store for coffee germplasm - including wild varieties of coffee that can be used by breeders to strengthen commercially grown coffee against threats, such as pests, diseases and climate change. But he also urges policymakers to improve current regulations over exchange of germplasm between different countries, in order to support coffee research and breeding.
published: September 2010
In southern Malawi, farmers growing pigeonpea have traditionally grown plants that take around nine months from planting to harvesting. But with rainfall becoming less reliable, crop failures are becoming more common. In response, crop breeders at the Chitedze Research Station have developed a medium duration variety of pigeonpea which can be harvested in five to six months. The variety is also suitable for other countries in the region such as Tanzania, Kenya and Mozambique. Geoffrey Kananji, a senior crop breeder, explains more to George Kalungwe.
published: July 2010
International seed giant Monsanto is working with several partners, including national governments and the publically funded International Centre for Wheat and Maize Improvement (CIMMYT), to develop drought-tolerant maize varieties suitable for Africa. The Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) project is working in five countries over a ten-year period, using conventional breeding and biotechnology techniques, to develop varieties of maize that can yield 20-30% more than current, non drought-tolerant varieties. Dr Godfrey Asea, who is leading the WEMA project in Uganda, explains more about how the project is working and what it aims to achieve.
published: May 2010
In the 1990s, cassava mosaic disease stunted cassava crops in central and eastern Africa and wiped out hundreds of local cassava varieties. Finally, the release of 12 mosaic resistant cassava varieties allowed production to be rebuilt. Now, there is another threat to cassava production - brown streak disease, and once again, the hunt is on for resistant varieties; several may be released in the coming months. Dr Chris Omongo, who has been involved in identifying the varieties, talks to Wambi Michael.
published: October 2009
The launch of the African Seed Investment Fund will make long-term, low-interest loans available to around 20 seed companies. This funding is vital if Africa's seed industry is to grow, to thereby make high quality, improved seed available and affordable for the millions of farmers who currently use seed saved from their previous harvest. The launch, which took place in Kampala in April 2009, was attended by representatives from the seed industry, research institutions and farmers' organisations. They discuss the significance of the fund and of improved seed, for Africa's agricultural future.
published: May 2009
Science, particularly agricultural science, is seldom seen as a glamorous career by young African graduates. Many studying agriculture have simply failed to get onto a more desirable course - such as medicine or law. One such person was Christian Daberechukwu Ani, a young Nigerian graduate. But having completed his studies in agriculture, Christian became convinced of its importance for the future of the continent. So much so, he founded the Big Brains of Agriculture multipurpose cooperative society for fellow agricultural graduates. He shares his enthusiasm for agricultural science, reflecting on the brain drain and the lack of support for students and graduates.
published: May 2009
Africa needs to grow and consume more vegetables. Currently, average consumption of vegetables is just 40 kg per year per person, only about half of the minimum set by the World Health Organisation. But vegetable production in Africa has been constrained by the poor availability and high price of good quality vegetable seed, much of which is imported. In Tanzania, Mali, Cameroon and Madagascar, staff of the World Vegetable Centre are working with local farmers to improve seed supply for both exotic and indigenous vegetable species. In Vegetable seed - Africa steps up production Christophe Kouame, who has been leading this work in the centre's Cameroon office, explained more about the programme to Martha Chindong.
published: March 2009
Bananas are typically multiplied by taking 'suckers' from a mature plant. Often farmers will exchange suckers with each other, to increase the diversity of their banana crop. However, one disadvantage with this method is that diseases can be retained in the sucker, causing loss of productivity in the new banana plant. Tissue culture is an alternative approach. Tiny pieces of banana are cleaned of disease and multiplied in a laboratory. A scientist and a farmer explain just how this works, and the benefits it offers.
published: January 2009
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