Wednesday June 4 2014

Naro targets students to get interested in agriculture

Students at the Jinja agricultural show, FILE

Students at the Jinja agricultural show, FILE PHOTO 

By Lominda Afedraru

It is a new strategy for National Agricultural Research Organisation (Naro) to encourage the youth to pick interest in agricultural science and technology by targeting those in schools. The drive is also for them to view it as a career option.

Although Naro has well-trained agricultural scientists, the management recognises the need to cultivate a young generation to step into the shoes and fill the gap when the current generation of scientists grows older.

In the same vein, Uganda Biosciences Information Centre (UBIC), which is based at the National Crop Resources Research Institute (NaCRRI) Namulonge, organised an essay competition for secondary and tertiary institutions including university students.

UBIC started by putting an advert in the media in January calling for applications from students all over the country to participate in the essay writing competition.

A total of 22 students from six higher education institutions—Bukalasa Agricultural College, and Bishop Stuart, Kyambogo, Makerere and Uganda Christian Universities—submitted their entries.

Out of these, three emerged winners with the overall winner and two runners up. In this category, Rodney Okwasimiire of School of Biological Sciences, Makerere University , was the overall winner. Mildred Nakanwagi of Uganda Christian University, and Edrick Bwambale of Uganda Christian University, were first and second runners up respectively.

The secondary school students showed more interest. A total of 38 students from 13 secondary schools submitted entries. These were: Amach Modern SSS Lira, Apostles of Jesus Minor Seminary, Kabale, Dr Obote College Boroboro, Hope SSS Mpigi, Kawempe Muslim Secondary School, Kings College Buddo, and Lira Town College, Lira.

Others were: Mbogo High School, Naalya SSS, Rainbow International School, Soroti Secondary School, St Paul’s SSS Bukinda, Kabale, and Trust High School Kabuubu, Mpigi

The winners in this secondary school category were Maxim Ohairwe of Kings College Buddo. Jacob Odur of Lira Town College, and Victor Twinamatsiko of Apostles of Jesus Minor Seminary Kabale, emerged the first and second runners ups respectively.

The team who evaluated the essays from the post-secondary students comprised of professors and scientists with knowledge in plant genetics.
And for the secondary students, their evaluators were from the Ministry of Education, agriculture teachers as well as scientists with knowledge in biology and biotechnology

The evaluators were from Makerere University, Gulu University, Naro and Uganda National Council for Science and Technology, among others.

Sustain involvement
Dr Barbara Zawedde Mugwanya, coordinator, UBIC, said the overall winners were given laptops while the runners up got agricultural science textbooks including their teachers and lecturers for educating students with knowledge about plant genetics. Some books cover biology as a subject while others covered plant genetics specifically.

Dr Yonna Baguma, who was then in charge of Biosciences at NaCRRI, represented the director at the prize giving event.
He explained to the students and the other stakeholders that Naro’s mandate is to guide all stakeholders in issues concerning agriculture in Uganda

“Naro has 16 research stations with six of them at national level and the nine serve regions in the country with mostly applied agriculture where farmers are in position to get material from these regional institutes. We are mandated to get solutions for our agricultural commodities like crops, livestock, fisheries and poultry among others,” he said.
This is done by blending tools using both the conventional and biotechnology mechanisms, he added.

To sustain the students’ involvement, Naro intends to establish a network with their teachers by incorporating sabbatical training progarmmes with the various secondary and post-secondary training institutes.
It is expected that it is through this that information, knowledge and skills will be passed on to the students.

Dr Okasai Opolot, commissioner, crop protection, Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries, expressed the view that science was be given prominence on the national level. And more prominence should be given to agricultural science because it is the backbone of the economy, and the challenges of famine and hunger should be solved by agricultural scientists.

“We cannot run away from modern biotechnology and teaching agricultural science to our students is pertinent because at Naro, we have engineering, biological and radiography laboratories, among others. This means whoever has studied one component of this science will still fit in within Naro,” he added.

Going on to explain challenges brought about by climate change, Okasai said it is expected that scientists will breed crop varieties in innovative ways to offer solutions since some issues like drought are already being addressed by the breeding drought tolerant varieties.

Serving society
He concluded by pointing out that bringing scientists to interact with students is a good innovation and the linkage with the Ministry of Education must be sustained.

In his remarks, Robinson Nsubuga, commissioner, Ministry of Education, said the government recognises the development prospects for utilisation of science and technology for purposes of serving the society.

“Science and technology is recognised as a technology of the twenty first century and it is indicated in the 2007- 2015 Education Sector Investment Plan and the Higher Education Strategic Plan of 2003-2015. The same is reflected in the Business Technical and Vocational Education Training Strategy of 2010,” said the speech which he read on behalf of the minister.

“I am therefore of the view that if this technology is used for crop improvement, it is part of the response to societal challenges because it has the potential to significantly influence agricultural progress and economic growth.”

award winner feels the essay competition is a step towards his career goal

Maxim Ohairwe, Kings College Buddo, who was then in his Senior Four vacation, won the overall award in the secondary school category. “I feel accomplished because my dream is to become a biological scientist,” he said.

He further went on to narrate his experience. “I saw an advert in the print media in January this year calling for applicants to participate in agricultural science essay competition. I got interested and started researching using the internet because at school I am good at Biology. I think it is going to be my most loved career”

The essay required focusing on issues surrounding agricultural biotechnology. It required him to do a comprehensive research since he was not well versed with this particular subject.

It took him one month to write his essay, which is titled “Biotechnology, its benefits and concerns”