Windhoek — The Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry has unveiled the first batch of seeds that were bred in Namibia by Namibians using mutation breeding.
The project was a joint effort between the agriculture ministry, Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on induced mutation breeding that started in 2009.
Speaking at the unveiling on Wednesday, the Minister of Agriculture, Water and Forestry, John Mutorwa, said the new varieties presented satisfy local standards.
He said the selection of best performing varieties was based on important agronomic traits such as yield per hectare, early maturity, grain quality and nutritional value.
Under this project, selected varieties of four staple crops - cowpea, pearl millet, sorghum and Bambara groundnut - were subjected to irradiation using gamma rays at the IAEA, at the Seibersdorf laboratories in Austria. The irradiated varieties were brought back to Namibia to be evaluated under local environmental conditions.
The ministry followed strict evaluation and selection for the past eight years - and promising and suitable genotyoes were isolated from the population.
Mutorwa said in total 15 cowpea varieties will be listed, of which seven were released yesterday, while the rest will be released in the coming years.
In addition, 12 sorghum varieties were identified to be listed as national varieties of which four were released.
Mutorwa added that 16 pearl millet varieties were recommended to be listed as national varieties - however, due to the cross-pollination nature of the crop, there was a high rate of contamination during seed multiplication.
He stated that further research is still required to achieve purity in order to avail best pearl millet varieties to the nation.
The main objective of the project was to apply mutation-breeding techniques to develop high yielding, early maturing and resilient crop varieties against drought and insects pests, among others. He said to achieve this objective, the project applied crop-breeding methods, geared towards mitigating the effect of climate change.
These methods use combined technology packages, based on mutation induction as well as some advanced genomic screening techniques to improve crop production.
The seeds are available through the ministry's extension offices - pearl millet is packed in 2kg and costs N$20.50, while sorghum per 2kg is N$20.50 and cowpea N$24.00.
The project was led by Dr Lydia Ndinealo Horn, as lead scientist, while the project was implemented by the ministry's Directorate of Agricultural Research and Development (DARD) under the overall directorship of Johanna Andowa at three crop research stations, namely Mannheim research station near Tsumeb, and at Omahenene and Bagani.
Furthermore, the minister touched on the seed and seed varieties bill and plant breeders and farmer's rights bill.
He said the mentioned bills left the confines of the agriculture ministry approximately six to seven years ago.
"The bills were promptly approved by Cabinet, in principle, and were referred to the Cabinet Committee on Legislation (CCL) , which , to their credit, also comprehensively discussed, scrutinised, approved and referred the said bills to the government's legal drafters," he added.
"Since then, the said important bills remain, figuratively speaking, 'chained and imprisoned' with the specific legal drafters, to whom they were referred. This is not good. It is frustrating. Nevertheless, we still hope the mentioned bills, namely the agronomic industry amendment bill, food safety bill, meat company bill of Namibia, will reach the parliament of Namibia, for debates, refinement and passing during 2018," concluded Mutorwa.