Oct 25, 2008

Keeping it organic

Ephraim Kasozi

UGANDA. Daily Monitor - Kampala, 23 Oct 2008

Dr Bua who is also a specialist in developing high yielding cassava varieties, says the products that would be generated from laboratories like cassava disease resistant varieties will be disseminated and promoted to the local farmers.

Farmers working to boost food security and improve their livelihoods in terms of incomes from the produce will now move their minds from the use of chemicals to natural organisms.

Research carried out indicates that in order to maintain food security in the country and the world over, farmers have been boosted by biological control measures of pests and diseases. Mr Kamayombi Bulegeya, a crop protection specialist says farmers can now focus on environmentally friendly methods other than the use of chemicals.

“Pesticides like ambush and dursban are hazardous to the environment and humans unless they are safely handled,” he said. Mr Bulegeya, also the commissioner in the Ministry of Agriculture, animal Industry and Fisheries, says one such biological control method of pests is the use of fungi.

He says farmers can control pests and diseases like banana weevils, variegated grasshoppers, locusts and some types of termites by applying metarhizium specie and Bauveria specie fungi. Mr Bulegeya adds, “These two types of fungi are naturally occurring when applied appropriately to kill pests.” “You extract fungus from the soil, purify and multiply it on artificial medium in the laboratory to get the quantities needed.

When you apply the fungi on pests, then spores germinate on them and enter the insect bodies to multiply further to kill the pests,” he added. The amount of fungi increases as long as pests come together and the spores spread more when the pests start dying.

“For those pests that aggregate like weevils spread to the spores easily,” Mr Bulegeya said. However, he added that the use of fungi is a delicate and new technique that cannot be used by subsistence farmers.

“To calculate the dose and ensure the right environment for survival of fungi and to have the quantity and purification requires financial and technical inputs. These are still high,” he says. Mr Bulegeya’s revelation adds value to the recent development made at the National Crops Resources Research Institute where new high yielding varieties are being tested and the start of a cassava biotech capacity project for agro-biodiversity and biotechnology (Agrobio) programme.

Dr Antony Bua, an Agric-Economist and Team Leader for National Cassava Programme said such initiatives would build capacity to perform very high and advanced science which we normally borrow from Europe and America, adding that intervention would build local human capacity in using the advanced science facilities rather than relying on developed countries, as has been the case.

Mr Bulegeya said the fungi could be accessed from research stations and international bodies and farmers who use high technology and producers of high value crops. “Such organisations have got laboratories and skilled manpower with support to maintain the fungi, which can be kept for six to eight months under appropriate temperature,”

The crop protection specialist says that flowers for instance have biological control agents such as wasps; “It is the same principle like beetles used to control the water hyacinth on Lake Victoria.” Mr Bulegeya says about six strains of coffee have been developed through research to address coffee wilt disease because “they exhibited resistance to any disease.”

“The challenge now is to multiply these strains to get sufficient quantities to supply the farmers,” he says. For matooke management, Mr Bulegeya recommends, “Good management, where you remove all the infected plants and burry them, fertilise the plantation and remove all the male buds as soon as the last finger of a bunch has formed.”

He says that another strategy has been developed where by some areas have been mapped in the northern region where cassava plants are still free of diseases to get seeds while a comprehensive research is going on to develop a disease-resistant variety. “We must aggressively promote agricultural produce either natural or organic to ensure food security, increase production and productivity and income of farmers who constitute over 80 per cent of our population,” Mr Bulegeya says.

Dr Bua says, “It will also be cost effective and cheap for Uganda to develop local technologies using locally based facilities. Uganda would also have a comparative advantage in the East and Central African region to conduct advanced research for regional countries.”

Dr Bua who is also a specialist in developing high yielding cassava varieties, says the products that would be generated from laboratories like cassava disease resistant varieties will be disseminated and promoted to the local farmers.

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