30 November 2005

Uganda: Seed Bank to Protect Plants From Extinction

Kampala — SCIENTISTS at the National Agriculture Research Organisation (NARO) have developed a gene bank to avoid the erosion and extinction of Uganda's indigenous plants and genetic resources.

The gene bank, stationed at Entebbe Botanical Gardens (EBG), is the country's first research centre and will store seeds of a variety of indigenous plants and crops.

"In case such plants disappeared from Uganda, farmers would be able to get the original seeds from the gene bank and plant them," John Mulumba, the Eculator of the Botanical Gardens, said recently.

He said that before being taken to the bank, the seeds would be first tested to ensure that they are pest- and disease-free such that they are able to stay for 400 years.

Mulumba said they are to concentrate on storing seeds of indigenous plants that face a high risk of vanishing from the country. He said some of the genetic resources, like small indigenous tomatoes, egg plants, beans, cassava, mangoes and bananas are being replaced by new species, mainly due to the effects of pests and diseases.

"Activities like clearing forests, reclaiming wetlands, poor agricultural practices and the use of toxic fertilisers have contributed to the loss of soil fertility and the disappearance of Uganda's indigenous crops and plants. When land degrades, it can't be able to hold the vegetation and the nutrients needed for the growth of a plant," said Dr. Dennis Kyetere, the Director General of NARO, while launching the gene bank recently.

"The preservation of indigenous crops and plants will ensure food security in the country and also help Ugandans to retain the medicinal plants that have played a vital role in the treatment of various diseases," he added.

Mulumba said the establishment of the Botanical Gardens has enabled indigenous crops like the Robusta coffee originally grown for ritual purposes to rage on until now.

"Arabica coffee was first introduced in the Botanical Gardens in the 1900s and it gained commercial importance in the cooler areas of Bugisu," he said.

He said the EBG was established in 1898 with the main objective of studying plants of potential value to Uganda.

Several species from tropical Africa that still rage on include coffee canephora, coffee congensis, coffee liberica and coffee stenophyll.

"All these can be seen depicting interesting characteristics in the gardens," said Mulumba.

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