Monday, March 24, 2014 

Maize varieties to be commercialized

A farmer in her maize garden. Five improved seed varieties will be availed in 2015. (PHOTO BY AGENCY)

KAMPALA, Uganda - Maize Farmers who have been expecting to plant the new improved maize varieties at the National Crop Resources Research Institute (NACRRI) in Namulonge, have to wait until 2015. This is because the trial gardens at the institute have not produced enough seeds.

 Geoffrey Asea, the Head of Cereal Research Programme at the institute told East African Business Week that they can only distribute the seeds after enough multiplication. This he said can only be after 2015.

 “We had hoped to commercialize our five new improved maize varieties on the market this year but the challenge is we have not yet produced enough seeds. It’s why we are postponing  to the beginning of 2015. It’s when we shall have enough seeds for all maize farmers,” he explained.  

The scientists, at the crop institute have developed more drought resistant maize varieties on addition to the existing maize hybrids. They are UH5301, UH5354, UH5355, WE2114 and WE2115.

Asea said if these varieties are commercialized in 2015, farmers will have a great opportunity to improve their earning capacity. 

Uganda is part of the drought infested countries due to climate change. This has affected maize production by 65%. However, Asea said the new varieties being developed will stand such challenges (droughts) and are Aflatoxin.

Aflatoxins are group of chemicals produced by certain mold fungi. 

Asea disclosed that they are working on four other improved maize varieties which are expected to be both drought and pest resistant.

“If they are approved by the National Variety Release committee in the agriculture ministry such variety will also be released on the market which will give farmers better options for the maize variety they would prefer to plant,” he added. 

Asked how much the improved seeds will cost, Asea assured farmers that they should not be worried of the prices as they will remain the same.

“The scientist sold free royalties to African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) which will collaborate with the private sector seed producing companies to multiply the seeds and sell them to the local farmers on the market at cheaper price,” he noted. 

The development of the drought and pest resistant maize varieties is part of the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) project which is being supported by the international maize and wheat improvement Center (CIMMYT) and the National Research Institutes in Uganda, Kenya, Mozambique and Tanzania.   

In the five years, the WEMA project is expected to cost US$47million and its being coordinated by AATF based in Nairobi. Its main objectives is to enhance scientist from the above mentioned countries  to develop new maize varieties that are drought and pest resistant through using technologies like conventional crop breeding and transgenic ones commonly known as Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).  Asea who is also the coordinator of WEMA in Uganda also revealed that the scientist at Namulonge will release the transgenic maize varieties in 2017 after the parliament has passed the Biosafety Bill which will regulate GMO products. 

“By 2017 we shall have data that can allow scientist to release GMOs of improved maize varieties if the Biosafety Bill is passed by the legislators in the parliament.

“The combination of both conventional and transgenic improved maize varieties on the market will improve farm productivity in drought prone regions where production has been low because of prolonged drought,” he said.

By Samuel Nabwiiso, Monday, March 24th, 2014