In two recent articles, Michael J. Ssali, a journalist at Uganda’s Daily Monitor and a B4FA Media Fellow, reported on advances in plant breeding currently taking place in Uganda to improve the country’s food supply and offered farmers insight into hybrid seeds. His articles arise from a recent B4FA genetics course in Uganda supported by the John Templeton Foundation.
Writing in “Farmer’s Diary”, a section devoted to giving farmers the latest news, Ssali reports that Ugandan researchers are hard at work to find way to protect the crops that feed so much of Uganda’s population (“Biotechnology has the potential to solve our farming problems“). In his article, he points out that biotechnology and genetically modified (GM) crops have a role to play, as traditional plant breeding cannot always address these challenges, particularly for crops as challenging to breed as bananas. Yet Ssali also notes that biotechnology is much broader than only GM – it includes tissue culture and working with pollen to produce hybrid varieties. He also analyses the role that government regulation must play in order to ensure the safety and support the future commercialisation of bananas or other crops that resist chronic diseases.
Moving beyond biotech, Ssali also writes about farmers’ tradition of seed saving and informal seed exchanges (“Don’t keep seeds from previous harvests“) and why this is not the best method for some seeds, particularly those known as F1 ‘hybrid’ seeds that have been bred for certain traits. Understandably, farmers wish to run their farms economically and use their traditional practices for acquiring the best seeds. Ssali points out that seed saving and swapping does not always result in the best yields, particularly for F1 hybrids. As he notes, scientists have carefully selected the parents of hybrid plants, but this cannot occur in the next generation of saved seed.
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