Gene bank extends its services for community seed systems

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By Lominda Afedraru

Posted  Wednesday, January 1   2014 at  02:00

There are fears that as a result of genetic improvement of several plant varieties, the indigenous crops grown by many farmers throughout the country may become endangered or extinct.
To allay the fears, the Plant Genetic Resources Centre in Entebbe is preserving all plant species that can be accessed by farmers who would wish to grow a particular variety. In addition, the preserved species can be used by research institutes to improve traits of crops faced with challenges as pests and diseases, and effects of drought and floods, among others.

This national gene bank has also extended this practice of preserving indigenous varieties as well as seeds to community gene banks. This is to make them available to farmers who may need to acquire material for immediate planting.

John Mulumba Waswa, a plant breeder and head of Plant Generic Resources Centre, says his team is training farmers on how to keep seeds in these community gene banks as well as breed good quality seeds, which they can sell to fellow farmers.
“We have so far trained farmers in Nakaseke, Kabwohe, Sheema, Mityana and Kabale districts, among others. What we do is to use planting materials within the communities to establish trial sites to breed the seeds, which farmers can access in form of borrowing,” he explains.

When a farmer borrows from the community gene bank; he or she, for instance, will be given a kilogramme of high quality seeds of a bean variety, he or she is expected to return two kilogrammes of seeds at the time of harvest.
Much as the farmers are encouraged to preserve seed or varieties in community gene banks, they are also required to do the same at the national gene bank in Entebbe.
According to Wasswa, this is done both at the seed bank in the laboratory as well as the botanical garden, where one is able to find plant varieties including wild relatives of these plants.

This “store” is benefitting scientists as well. An example is a team from the National Semi Arid Resources Research Institute in Serere working on improvement of millet and sorghum. They are able to access wild relatives of these crops from the gene bank as a useful resource for their research work.
Those from National Crops Resources Research Institute in Namulonge have access to the wild rice variety for the research work going on at the institute.

Eva Zaake, the in-charge of the gene bank, says they also obtain seeds and other materials of vegetables, legumes and cereals, among others, from farmers as well as breeders at research institutes.
Vegetables at the bank include nakati, cabbage, okra, dodo and eggplant, the legumes include beans and groundnuts, while millet, sorghum and rice are some of the cereals.
The seeds are packaged and kept in a refrigerator under controlled temperature. They can last up to 50 years but if the seed is losing viability, the gene bank team regenerates it by planting and collecting this particular type of seed afresh.

For a seed to stay longer, it should pass a test of viability at 85 per cent and should be dried to have moisture content range of three to four per cent. There are facilities for drying these seeds to attain the desired quality and farmers can access it free of charge as well as plant breeders in the various research institutes.