Today, National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO) together with the National Crops Resources Research Institute(NaCRRI) hosted a bunch of journalists to their research institute in Namulonge to showcase their progress on research of various projects they are undertaking. However, they took a keen and critical look into the various technology they have used in making different varieties of Cassava in Uganda to show why they over the times become the center of regional excellence in Africa.
Cassava is the fourth most important food calorie crop in the tropics, and is growing in importance both for food security (especially Africa) and in multiple commercial and industrial uses (mainly Latin America and Asia). NARO has released 21 improved cassava varieties during the last two decades. The varieties are resistant to cassava mosaic disease (CMD) and tolerant to cassava brown streak disease (CBSD).
In a Q&A with a group of journalists, Dr. Titus Alicai the Program Leader, Root Crops Research dissected the sophisticated and light technology that has been instituted in making various cassava varieties that are less resistant and has the capacity to defend itself from viruses.
“It takes up to 10 years to come up with just one variety of cassava. The process to arrive at one variety of cassava that can grow fast, resistant to viruses and can also withstand the harsh climate conditions is quite long”, noted Dr. Titus Alicai
Asked about the biotechnology modules that have been used by the research center to achieve these many cassava varieties, Dr. Titus Alicai went on to break down and note that there are quite many types of technologies they are currently using but most importantly they are using the genetic engineering module.
The potential for genetic improvement of any crop relies on the ability to successfully use the existing genetic resources, including the related wild species and DNA. The current cassava genetic resources are primarily landrace varieties of Manihot esculenta and wild Manihot species that evolved under natural selection, as well as farmer conditions (cultivated cassava) for centuries or even millennia
The combinations of genes currently found in the cassava landraces are a result of many centuries of farmers’ selection. Since cassava is a highly heterozygous crop, the only way to preserve these specific gene combinations is through vegetative propagation.
The other forms of Biotechnology that are used at the institute include conservation which is more of the rudimentary forms but also highly sophisticated. This involves conserving the old varieties that have been around and those that have recently been produced so as they can be re-used in the near future.
“Today you may have a very resistant variety of cassava, However, 10 years from now there would be another spring of disease that may come and the resistant variety will no longer be resistant. So what we do is use the conservation method and when we establish that the disease that once affected the variety is gone, we can now bring the variety again and start growing it. That is conservation technology that we have instituted”, Dr. Titus explained
Some of the currently produced cassava varieties with high potential for commercial production in Uganda include NAS3, NASE14, NAROCASS 1, NASE19. These varieties come with a number of upper hand benefits to farmers; The cassava varieties are resistant or tolerant to major pests and diseases, The cassava varieties have a capacity of producing over 20 to 30 tons of cassava in a single harvest.
Plant tissue culture which is a collection of techniques used to maintain or grow plant cells, tissues or organs under sterile conditions on a nutrient culture medium of known composition is also used at the institutes as a way to process better varieties of cassava. Plant tissue culture is widely used to produce clones of a plant in a method known as micropropagation.
The brief of the media then proceeded with a visit to the processing laboratory that has a number of sophisticated computers that help in the processing of the variety and oh, the process in very cumbersome.
We have state of the art laboratories in Uganda and we won’t need to go to Europe to use these facIlities because they are here. We have well-trained researchers who help with training students and interns here. It has this point, We have become a regional center of excellence something that has made us reliable in the agricultural sector.
NARO and NaCRRI will be showcasing the how they are using technology to make livestock farming better.