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Why Uganda Needs Gene Banks

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Experts have severally called for investment in research and gene banks in Africa, saying it is the only way for survival of the crops that Uganda and Africa has.

“We need to ensure we keep these gene banks. Not only do we encourage governments in Africa that benefit from the release of these varieties to invest in gene banks, but also the global community to see the importance of investing in keeping them,” Dr Debisi Araba, the Information Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) director for Africa, says.

Investing in agriculture research and investing in all the support systems like the gene bank will help ensure that Africa can feed the estimated 2.5 billion people in the continent by 2050.

He says gene banks are the foundation of breeding. However, the world is facing funding crisis and shortages for gene banks.

What are gene banks

Gene banks are warehouses where biological material is collected, stored, catalogued and made available for redistribution.

The main role of plant gene banks is to preserve genetic diversity, in the form of seeds or cuttings in the case of plants reproduced vegetatively. This material, together with associated information can be used in research and plant breeding. Gene banks are sometimes also referred to as an ex-situ conservation facility (because biological materials are conserved outside their natural habitat).

Sulaiman Sebuliba, a breeder at NARO, commended the support from CIAT and Pan African Bean Alliance (PABRA) towards the gene bank and research at NARO.

“We need to breed varieties depending on what is on the location, for example, for the drought-prone, we primarily breed drought-resistant then if the area is pest or disease infested, we breed pest resistant and bring in the micronutrient component for nutritional purposes” Sebuliba explains.

To address food insecurity, Sebuliba says they are improving varieties on a daily seasonal basis and adapting crops to the local shocks and stress.

“Due to climate change and conflict, you need high yielding and more draught tolerant but also high micronutrient content because we have mandate to leverage agriculture to improve nutrition and health,” Sebuliba says.

The gene bank at Kawanda has got over 4,000 bean varieties. Each variety carry unique traits which need to be preserved because we don’t know the future holds. It also has some bean varieties from Rwanda, that were brought in following the genocide of 1994.

“We can’t afford to lose these varieties; they have traits which we will need in future. The only way to guarantee we have these varieties for the future breeders is to ensure we have a well-funded gene bank,” Sebuliba says.

The gene bank has different varieties which the breeders use to introduce new varieties.

CIAT is the custodian of the global resources of beans and has a gene bank of 37,000.

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