Bioscience-Based Research for African Staple Crops

Saturday, 15 February 2014
Regency B (Hyatt Regency Chicago)
Andrew Kiggundu , National Agro-Biotechnology Center , Kawanda, Uganda
The delivery of improved crop varieties is core to sustaining agricultural productivity among the largely resource poor subsistence farming communities in Africa. The hot and humid climate presents an environment for many crop pest and disease organisms to flourish hence the high diversity observed and common outbreak of new diseases afflicting crop productivity. Other constrains relate to declining soil fertility and drought. Micronutrient deficiencies are also common leading to malnutrition, anaemia, blindness and stunting in communities who cannot have a balanced diet regularly. In order to overcome these challenges there is need to expand crop breeding technologies of African adapted crops. Researchers at the National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO) of Uganda realised the limitations of traditional breeding to deliver novel varieties with local preferences and adopted modern biotechnology to complement conventional breeding. Through both Government and development partner support, NARO has developed capacity in genetic engineering of local varieties of crops such as banana as well as contained and confined field evaluation of GM crops. Being signatory to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and its Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, laws are required to regulate GM research, while these were under development, the Uganda National Council for Science and Technology, used existing laws to develop a framework within which research can continue. It is through this that NARO has undertaken 5 GM field trials of banana for black Sigatoka disease resistance, vitamin A and iron bio-fortification, and bacterial wilt resistance, nematode and weevil stem borer resistance; 3 GM field trials of cassava for cassava mosaic virus and brown streak virus resistance. Other crops include 3 trials of water efficient maize; and 4 trials of ball worm resistant and herbicide tolerant cotton. This paper presents the objectives of the various technologies being evaluated in relation to national development in Uganda and Africa. It discusses the regulatory environment that has been successful in facilitating GM research in absence of a substantive law and progress towards commercial release of some of these products.