10 March 2014

Tanzania: Expert Urges Investment in Bio-Tech Labs

TISSUE culture is going to be one of the most lucrative businesses in the country as farmers are increasingly looking for better planting materials.

By definition, tissue culture is a rapid propagation of improved planting materials usually done in biotech laboratories.

Officer-in-charge with Mikocheni Agriculture Research Institute (MARI), Dr Joseph Ndunguru said demand by farmers of high quality hybrid planting materials justifies investment into biotech laboratories by the private sector.

"You can see how demand for clean better planting materials by farmers in the country is rapidly increasing," Dr Ndunguru said after meeting the Mara Regional Commissioner, Mr John Tupa, whose region is facing serious attacks by pests and diseases on crops including cassava, the staple food.

He said so far the country has only four public biotech labs with one at MARI in Dar es Salaam which produces tissue culture plantlets for cassava among many other crops.

Dr Ndunguru himself has been involved in a research to improve cassava which is resistant to both Cassava Mosaic and Brown Streak diseases. He promised to work with Mwanza-based Ukiriguru Agriculture Research Institute to complete a biotech lab by supplying equipment as the building has been idle for the past 10 years.

Acting Zonal Director at UARI, Dr January Mafuru said farmers are struggling to get planting materials for a hybrid cassava variety developed by researchers at his institute.

"Demand is very high but we are overwhelmed because our capacity to produce enough planting materials is limited by technology," Dr Mafuru said while suggesting that tissue culture will provide a lasting solution to their problem.

He said the variety known as Mkombozi has shown resistance to both Cassava Mosaic and Brown Streak diseases and farmers are struggling to get the planting materials which is wanting.

"With tissue culture we can be able to meet this growing demand other than our currently means of multiplying planting material through growing in fields," he pointed out.

Tanzania imports the bulk of seeds and other planting materials because of lack of capacity to produce such planting material locally. Over 70 per cent of planting material is imported which makes them expensive and out of reach for many subsistence farmers.

MARI has already produced thousands of tissue culture plantlets for a hybrid cassava variety developed by Dr Ndunguru and young researchers working at a biotech lab at the institute. So far there is only one private company which has invested in biotech lab producing tissue culture located in Arusha.

The Arusha based Eco Agri Consult produces tissue culture plantlets and also does cloning. The company said on its website that it has so far undertaken several projects including coffee and forest trees improvement, armyworm community based monitoring and forecasting, soil capitalization and utilization of fortified Minjingu natural rock phosphate to improve soil fertility.

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