10 February 2013

Rwanda: National Gene Bank Moves to Ensure Food Security

The National Gene Bank has started conserving seeds and other planting materials as one of the interventions to protect local species and ensure food security.

"The overall objective is to make sure every seed in Rwanda is conserved in the gene bank so that we do not lose our genetic materials," Daphrose Gahakwa, the Rwanda Agriculture Board director general, said on Friday.

A gene bank is an organisational unit that collects, documents, conserves and manages living samples of the diversity of genetic resources, including plants, animal breeds, forest genetic resources and microbes and the wild relatives of crops.

Gahakwa said the gene bank would guarantee food security by conservation, exchanging and ensuring sustainable use of the plant genetic resources for food and agriculture.

Gahakwa was speaking in an interview with The New Times on the sidelines of the validation workshop of Rwanda National Gene Bank action plan in Kigali. The gene bank, located at Rubona in Southern Province, started its work in 2009.

John Nzungize, the Rwanda Agriculture Board senior crop production and conservation researcher, said the bank was well equipped to initiate plant genetic resource conservation activities.

He noted that genetic bases were declining both in the wild and among the domesticated genetic resources used for agriculture, food supply and in the development of other products.

"Losing bio-diversity and its genetic resources may also affect research efforts, especially with regard to using genetic resources for other purposes, such as medical and cosmetic and food processing applications," Nzungize said.

Gahakwa said it was expensive to contract research centres in other countries in Africa and Europe to conserve seeds of Rwandan varieties. She noted that by using its own bank, Rwanda would be able to conserve more materials and improve research in the agro-sector.

"Rwanda is now lucky to have its own gene bank and we can serve the neighbouring countries' materials," she said.

Jerome Ndahimana, a senior researcher in agricultural board, said other uses of national gene bank that are not yet in place include long-term conservation of microbes for research purposes.

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