18 February 2019

Botswana: Genetic Resources Key to Food Security

Maun — Plant genetic resources for food and agriculture are fundamental to food security, Assistant Minister of Agricultural Development and Food Security, Mr Konstantinos Markus, says.

Officiating at a workshop on plant genetic diversity conservation in Maun, Mr Markus said plant genetic resources were key raw materials required not only for breeding crops, but also contributed to sustainable grassland and forest agriculture.

Mr Markus said small scale farmers were reliant on landraces of cultivated crops such as sorghum, millet, maize, groundnuts, cowpea, watermelon and bottle gourd.

"These valuable genetic resources have sustained generations of Batswana and allowed them to cope with the erratic rainfall and adverse weather conditions," he said.

Mr Markus noted that, associated with those plant genetic resources, was extensive indigenous knowledge that was fundamental to their conservation and utilisation.

He said government had adopted strategies and a number of agricultural programmes and policies to promote agricultural productivity.

He said the country's concern had been how to increase food production significantly to feed its population even as the effects of climate change depressed the yields of staple food.

The optimal harnessing of plant genetic resources for development of resilient and yielding crop varieties in farmers' fields, he said, was a mechanism for raising crop productivity noting that required the most useful heritable variations were sourced from traditional landraces and used in developing suitable crop varieties.

The assistant minister pointed out that a mechanism for the efficient management of plant genetic resources that ensured its conservation and sustainable use must therefore constitute an integral part of all efforts aimed at improving crop productivity.

He appreciated efforts by Department of Agricultural Research as the focal point for plant genetic resource conservation and as part of the SADC regional network for the establishment of national plant genetic resources centre or gene bank at Sebele.

The users of the resources he said, included farmers, breeders and researchers adding that farmers use then mainly for re-introduction into farming system for lost landraces to maintain diversity on farm.

Mr Markus said landraces had often been maintained in cultivation countrywide since they offer two key advantages; adaptation to specific environments and agronomic crop management practices.

In some cases, he said, traditional materials had not survived in cultivation either because they had been replaced by modern cultivars or due to the change of lifestyles and traditions.

Furthermore, he observed that the contribution of farmers to plant genetic resources conservation was appreciated and needed to be integrated into conservation efforts made by his ministry.

He said plant genetic resources conserved by farmers constitute mainly traditional landraces which possess a wide range of genes useful for quality breeding.

"The best means of their conservation is when materials are still available within the farming system.

But in our country except for rare cases, there were several remaining traditional landraces presently in agricultural system, some of which are conserved at the national gene bank," he added.

Mr Markus said there was a strong desire to return landraces from the bank to renewed life in the farm to be grown on farms and to maintain them there in what is referred to as on-farm conservation in order for the crops to continue their evolution.

Outlining some the objective of the workshop, the director of Agriculture Research, Dr Pharaoh Mosupi said they wanted to sensitise farmers about the national seed bank at Sebele and how they could benefit from it, encourage them to plough traditional crops and to learn about crop varieties in Ngamiland district.

<i>Source : BOPA</i>

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