By Stella Nassuna
In Uganda, the earliest use of hybrid plants dates back about 104years when the country under British rule.
Dr. Andrew Kiggudu who has been in the agriculture field for about 17years now, says that Uganda started breeding plants in 1909, at Entebbe botanical gardens.
The country that was originally known to grow a few indigenous yams, under British rule diversified and started growing cotton, tea, maize, matooke & others.
Genesis of plant hybridisation
Ancient agriculturists about 10, 000 years ago selected seeds of preferred plants to produce each subsequent generation.
This is how plant domestication began. A plant is said to be domesticated when its native characteristics are altered and cannot survive on its own without human intervention.
Though often confused by many, genetically modified (GM) plants are somewhat different. A scientist crosses a specific gene type from a far different plant, for example, a tomato gene with potato gene to come up with a specific variety which is either resistant to disease & pests, or high yielding, & resistant to extreme weather conditions.
What the people say
“The Mpologoma matooke (hybrid bananas) that is bred at Kawanda research Centre is too heavy for the stem to hold it up. As is matures the stem bends, and days later it falls off before fully maturing,” 45 year old Sarah Nakate, a subsistence farmer in Kajjasi.
“Hybrid oranges & lemons of today have their size modified to extra large, but the lemon has lost its true bitter taste to tasteless juice, and the orange has lost its sweet taste, with hardly any juice or seed,” Veronica Nakityo, a lawyer says.
“There is nothing wrong with cross breeding crops to get them resistant to diseases & pests, but there is everything wrong if a few selfish individuals use it to control the world’s production chain by inventing seeds, that die after maturing. A poor farmer cannot keep buying new seeds after every harvest,” Andrew Kalema, a farming journalist says.
It has also been rumoured by people like Mark Okello, a student of agriculture that some genetically modified seeds - terminator seeds - once planted in a particular type of soil, it will reject other seeds and can only accommodate the terminator seeds.
What the scientist say
“Yes it is true that the ‘empologoma’ matooke variety often falls off before fully maturing because its heavy, but it’s a good variety for commercial growers. A farmer growing this variety should always support the stem with poles so that it’s held in place,” scientist Geoffrey Arinaitwe says.
Scientist Andrew Kiggundu says: “We don’t create new verities for selfish reasons; it’s to help fight diseases and pests that mold with climate change. We also try to bridge the ever increasing food demand caused by the increasing population.”
Kiggundu adds that Uganda has the potential to create varieties; matooke or oranges that have a familiar taste that the locals can identify with, but our only challenge right now is finances and equipment.
Abel Arinaitwe, a plant pathologist and research officer at Kachwekano says that terminator seeds are GMO, and were never approved for global use. GMOs in Uganda are still under research at the national agriculture research centers.