Increasing banana yields by using tissue culture method

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If the country [Uganda] is to advance in agriculture, it has to adopt technologies that give advantage to farmers in the provision of planting materials that are free of disease, mature fast, have better yield and are safe for human consumption.

One of the types of technology that can be adopted is tissue culture as it is easily adoptive to existing planting materials that are indigenous and abundant. Tissue culture is a method of producing plants from roots, leaves or stems under sterile conditions and they can be produced in great numbers. And it can be for distribution to farmers at household and commercial levels.

Growing demand
One of the crops currently under threat and can be saved by this technology is banana.

Mr Erostus Nsubuga, Executive Director of Agro-Technologies Group, says before he ventured into tissue culture 10 years ago, he was headed for greener pastures in Gabon but was faced with whom he would leave his house with since he did not want to rent it out.

Faced with that dilemma, he got second thoughts and decided to venture into tissue culture. He selected the banana plant because then there was Banana Bacterial Wilt (BBW) in the central region, which almost wiped out banana plantations in Bugerere and Kayunga. “Copying from what I had seen in India I started the first laboratory in my boy’s quarters in 2002 before expanding to Buloba on Mityana Road,” he recalls. The rest is history as now his business has expanded and the demand is growing by day.

Uganda is one of the largest producers of bananas in the region and majority of farmers are engaged in its production so it provided Nsubuga enough market with large scale production.

Like any venture, the start was not easy as people associated it with genetically modified foods, so marketing it was difficult. However Nsubuga says he took his message to different fora until he made a breakthrough. He emphasises that tissue culture is quite different from genetically modified plants as the latter deals with the manipulation of genes to get better results.

With this intervention, the BBW outbreak was checked. Nsubuga says the current production of banana plantlets in his laboratory, the Agro-Technology Group, has increased from two million in 2006 to a steady eight million for the last three years. However he says the demand is big as the country plants about 22 million suckers annually and also beyond Uganda. “The demand for our services has grown tremendously as we are the only tissue culture laboratory in East and Central Africa. We are handling orders from Rwanda, Burundi, Kenya and Ethiopia,” he says.

Taking root
To popularise tissue culture, regional nurseries have been established in the country with the central region taking centre stage largely because BBW almost wiped out bananas in the region. In the western region, despite the presence of BBW, the farmers are still using plantlets from their gardens. However the technology is slowly taking root. One nursery has been put up at Bugarama village in Rwanyamahembe sub county, Kashaari county, Mbarara district.

Ms Margaret Sanyu, who runs the nursery, believe National Agricultural Advisory Services (Naads) should come in to teach farmers the advantages of the technology and distribute it to them. She adds it has advantages over the existing suckers that may be diseased, so government should intervene and help farmers to reduce on costs and distribution. For instance, about 1,000 small suckers can be carried in a small box.

“This technology has come at a time when we need it most and no chance should be lost in embracing it,” she says.

Recently 5,000 plantlets from her nursery were distributed to Kiruhura, Mbarara, Isingiro, Bushenyi, Sheema Districts and FAOC, an organisation that supports widows and orphans.

Charles Kabaare, a farmer who also doubles as an LC1 chairperson, says the technology is a welcome idea and will go a long way in helping farmers restore the depleted banana plantations. He wants the government to subsidise the price of the plantlets (each is at Shs2,500) through Naads because the district earns about Shs9m from the Rutooma market alone, which is next to the nursery. “Farmers in our village largely depend on matooke and livestock, the need to embrace the technology cannot be overemphasised because Mbarara district earns Shs 9m per month from the sale of matooke alone in Rutooma market,” he says.

Nsubuga encourages farmers to select their own banana varieties they would want propagated and bring them to the centre for multiplication, like Rwanda, Burundi and Ethiopia are doing, to suit their needs and desires. Uganda alone has about 100 varieties.

View article on In2EastAfrica website

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