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Nsubuga produces tissue cultured bananas in his lab

By Vision Reporter

Added 27th January 2010 03:00 AM

When the guard opens the gate at Agro Genetic Technologies (AGT), we enter straight into the mother garden which has bananas planted in polythene bags. I’m impressed by the healthy-looking bananas at this biotechnology centre in Buloba off Mityana road but Erastus Nsubuga, the brain behind this in

When the guard opens the gate at Agro Genetic Technologies (AGT), we enter straight into the mother garden which has bananas planted in polythene bags. I’m impressed by the healthy-looking bananas at this biotechnology centre in Buloba off Mityana road but Erastus Nsubuga, the brain behind this in

By Ronald Kalyango

When the guard opens the gate at Agro Genetic Technologies (AGT), we enter straight into the mother garden which has bananas planted in polythene bags. I’m impressed by the healthy-looking bananas at this biotechnology centre in Buloba off Mityana road but Erastus Nsubuga, the brain behind this investment, is not fazed and seems sad.

“I struggled to introduce a technology which I thought would help solve the country’s food shortage problems, but I have not received support from the Government,” he says.

President Yoweri Museveni officially opened his company in 2008 and assured him of the Government’s support, he says. One year down the road, the promise has never been fulfilled. “I do not have substantial orders from the Government, I have approached all the relevant authorities, but I have not succeeded,” said Nsubuga.

Currently, he sells 40% of his products to the outside market. Nsubuga’s biggest clientele is from Rwanda. The Rwandan government, he says, buys between 400,000 to 500,000 bananas annually.

He points out that though he receives some orders from the different districts through the use of NAADS funds, the numbers are still low.

Plant tissue culture, Nsubuga says, is a practice used to propagate plants under sterile conditions, often to produce a clone version of the plant. This involves the production of exact copies of particular plants that produce good flowers, fruits, or other desirable traits.

Nsubuga started the tissue culture laboratory due to the existing huge demand for high quality planting materials in the country, he says.

Kawanda Agricultural Research Institute is the only source of tissue-cultured planting materials in Uganda and this had led to insufficient supply and unavailability of quality planting material to farmers throughout the country.

“We wanted to produce sufficient quality, high yielding, pest and disease free planting material to Ugandan farmers,” explains Nsubuga. The laboratory also produces planting materials for other crops like coffee and pineapples. It also trains farmers and intends to venture into flowers.

When Nsubuga first established the laboratory, it had a production capacity of 1 million plantlets. He then worked on developing awareness of the new technology and when it increased among farmers, AGT established distribution centres in the farming communities to take the technology closer.

Demonstration gardens were then set up to train farmers in modern agronomic practices.

“We have developed from producing only 10,000 to between 15 to 20 million coffee plants and from 1 million bananas to 3 million bananas,” Nsubuga says. He sells his bananas at sh1,500.

“Tissue -cultured planting materials are disease-free and mature quickly. They should not be confused with genetic modification,” he says.

While tissue culture involves multiplying conventional crops, genetically modified crops involve gene modification, he explains. Tissue-cultured bananas spend seven months in the test tubes and then another two months in the nursery bed before they are sold off to the different stakeholders.

With the tissue culture technology, he says, it would take him five years to multiply the eight lines of coffee wilt resistant varieties that have been developed by scientists at coffee research centre in Kituza, Mukono district. In the five years, he said he can be able to raise the 200 million seedlings needed.

The executive director of Uganda Investment Authority, Maggie Kigozi who also visited the laboratory to assess Nsubuga’s investment said the Government was in full support of all his ventures.

“The bananas are sweet and we are looking forward to fulfiling President Museveni’s promise of buying from him in huge numbers,” Kigozi said.

Hope Mwesigye, the Agriculture Minister, together with Anders Johnson, the Swedish Ambassador to Uganda, also pledged support to the company.

Uganda is the second largest producer of bananas in the world. It produces over 8.6 million tonnes per annum, which is 30% of the world’s production.

However, unprecedented diseases like the banana bacterial wilt and the black sigatoka disease have been threatening the banana industry for the past five years.

Nsubuga produces tissue cultured bananas in his lab

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