KAMPALA– The agricultural research system in Uganda is challenged by the need for effective contribution to the socio-economic transformation of the people to tackle issues of food security within the population.
Research contribution needs to increasingly be visibly evident at grass-root level through effective knowledge, innovations and products development.
The national agricultural research system, especially National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO) and other partners like Makerere University’s Colleges of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences(CAES), College of Veterinary medicine, Animal resources have generated a number of technologies which need to be exposed to intended users that include policymakers, extension agents, producers, processors and consumers for uptake and utilization.
It is against this background that research work done in the agricultural sector is geared towards addressing food security in the country.
Dr Andrew Kiggundu, the Director of the Biotechnology Research Centre at National Agricultural Research Laboratories (NARL), notes that all ongoing research activities at Naro research institutes are geared towards improving food security in the country.
This is in terms of breeding crop varieties which are tolerant to drought, resistant to pests and diseases and varieties which are high yielding.
The aim is for farmers to grow these varieties following the right agronomy practices in order to obtain quality and improved yields to earn better income and to provide enough food for the population.
Dr Kiggundu notes that every research activity ranging from crop breeding, postharvest handling, soil fertility analysis and use of mechanized farm practices is geared towards achieving sustainable food security.
A case in point is that researchers at NARL have bred highbred banana varieties which farmers have adopted for improved yields. In Namulonge, scientists have bred varieties of Maize referred to as drought TEGO which are resistant to drought plus a series of other Longe varieties which are tolerant to pests and diseases and NABE bean varieties which are resistant to pests and diseases and high yielding.
Others are cassava varieties which have been developed over the years which are tolerant to Cassava Brown Streak Virus, Serenut ground varieties with high oil content and sorghum varieties which are high yielding and mature in shorter period.
To Dr Kiggundu, Uganda will be food secure as long as farmers embrace new technologies such as application of fertilizer to boost farm yields, following good agronomy practices and embracing good practices of post-harvest handling like use of threshers for rice, maize shelling to avoid loss during harvesting processing.
He, however, notes that farmers in Uganda have a tendency of not having storage facilities to store food which could be used in times of scarcity. As a country, there is also no initiative for government to own national silos for storing food which is a challenge in addressing food security. It is the reason there is always change in food prices in terms of scarcity yet if food was kept in silos, such price fluctuations would not exist.
The Director of Mbarara Zonal Agricultural Research and Development Institute (MbZARDI), Dr Halid Kirunda, notes that in general research work involving crops, animals, poultry, fisheries is aimed at contributing to food security.
To him there are crop varieties which have been released to farmer which are early maturing to address the issue of climate change effects. Banana bacterial wilt which is a big challenge to farmers is being addressed through research to come up with varieties which are resistant to the disease.
In the animal sector, Dr Kirunda notes that while carrying out research work, things to consider include provision of water for animals in times of drought and adequate forage to keep the animals healthy.
There are technologies developed by researchers to predict outbreak of diseases especially during dry season and early warning systems are implemented to alert the farmers to keep the situation in control.
This is done by developing diagnostic tools for detecting diseases before it attacks the animals. Measures like developing vaccines to immunize the animals are done to avoid outbreaks and killing of the animals.
Researchers also develop technologies to animal products to stay for a longer period to ensure availability of beef in times of starvation.
One of the technologies is adding bacteria that can allow milk to stay longer periods without getting spoilt, drying of beef for longer preservation including adding preservatives like sodium benzoate which can preserve beef for a longer period.
There are also pasture varieties like Napier grass, Calliandra and others which researchers have developed for farmers to feed their animals. They enable animals to contain beef with lactic acid which enriches animal beef with food nutrient
Technologies for preserving pasture to be given to animals during dry season are also an initiative to provide food security because one cannot ensure food security if there is no feed for the animals.
To him as long as farmers and other stakeholders including government adopt the technologies developed by research institutes, the country will be food secure especially is storage of food to cater for offseason is implemented there will be no food shortage.