Ugandan scientists embrace call for new approach in agricultural research

Fruit stall in a market. To match food demand with a growing population, there will have to be more innovative ways of producing food. FILE PHOTO

Ugandan scientists have welcomed the call by Dr Jose Graziano da Silva, director general, UN Food and Agriculture (FAO) to pursue a new science-based approach to achieve sustainable agriculture.
“We cannot rely on an input-intensive model to increase production and that the solutions of the past have shown their limits,” said Dr da Sliva while urging policy makers to support a broad array of approaches to overhaul global food systems. While addressing a session of FAO’s Committee on Agriculture, an advisory body that helps formulate FAO’s policy agenda, he stated such a shift should include change of attitude.

Explore alternatives
In addition, he noted that food production needs to grow by 60 per cent by 2050 to meet the expected demand from an anticipated world population of nine billion people.
“We need to explore these alternatives using an inclusive approach based on science and evidences, not on ideologies,” as well as to “respect local characteristics and context,” da Silva said.
Commenting on this, Arthur Makara, executive director, Science Foundation for Livelihoods and Development—a science advocacy organisation— said the FAO chief’s speech contained important proposals necessary for the attainment of sustained food security.
He cited cases of banana bacterial wilt and Cassava Brown Streak and Cassava Mosaic diseases, which are costing Uganda billions of shillings in loss of crop-yields and incomes annually.

Address challenges
Erostus Nsubuga, chairman, Uganda Biotechnology and Biosafety (UBBC) also welcomed FAO-D.G’s statement as a vilification of what Ugandan pro-biotechnology advocates have been advancing.
“That’s exactly what we have been saying; that introduction of biotechnology does not remove the traditional conventional breeding systems,” Nsubuga said.
“That’s exactly what his (Graziano’s) country (Brazil) is doing. It has both conventional and biotechnology-based breeding systems running side-by-side.”
Prof Joseph Obua, chairman, Naro’s Governing Council, highlighted how advances in science are being embraced to address some of these challenges.
“Our scientists have gone beyond conventional approaches and now using biotechnology to address challenges such as drought.”
The scientists argue that if the growing population is to be sustainably fed, integrated agricultural systems need to be adopted where compost manure, agro-forestry, controlled fertiliser-use, less-costly irrigation, mechanisation and chemical/plant pesticides have to be adopted and used as a mix and where appropriate.