The National Agricultural Research Organisation (Naro) has pledged to support the different government institutions involved in large scale food production as an intervention to curb the growing hunger in northern Uganda.
While talking to the media on Wednesday, during a technical review session on the research project for finger millet, pearl millet and sorghum on going at National Semi Arid Resources Research Institute (NaSARRI) in Serere District, the Director General of Naro, Dr Ambrose Agona said that the research station is ready to provide the support that the institutions need to produce enough food.
“We have the capacity to provide the necessary support to all institutions involved in food production to enable the country raise enough food to feed the people. We have done research on different seeds with several varieties that also include those early maturing gene types needed in drought stressed areas,” Dr Agona said.
Dr Agona added that all the Naro stations especially NaSARRI have developed multiple crops varieties that can survive in the semi-arid regions such as Karamoja, Teso where hunger has claimed several lives.
“The region predominantly survives on crops such as sorghum, millet and wheat on which the station in Serere has done extensive research and developed several breeds that are resistant to harsh climate, pests and diseases,” he said.
Dr Agona added that the institute needs support to produce and distribute the new varieties of crops to the farmers, a strategy that can address the food security challenges.
“Scientists in Serere have extensively done research on these crops and produced new breeds that need to reach the farmers. These new breeds such as sorghum and millet can stand the tests of drought, but also address famine and nutritional security,” says Dr Agona.
Dr Agona also revealed that the technical review meeting aimed at closing all the gaps in the project including involving the different sector players in the production chain as well as addressing the farmer needs is underway.
“Scientists have realised that government needs to intervene at the different levels of production, by providing inputs to the farmers, access to the appropriate seeds as well as improving the appalling infrastructure networks,” he said.
Faisal Kasule, a plant breeder in charge of pearl millet from Naro said that this new breed has capacity to stand the harsh climate in the semi-arid region, characterised by long drought, with very low rainfall levels. Kasule says pearl millet is a gem that is yet to be embraced by farmers.
“The crop is rarely attacked by diseases, save when the conditions are humid or during rainy season. Birds also can be a menace but that is something farmers can deal with,” says Kasule.
Kasule says that with availability of herbicides, the cultivation of the crop is also economical. “In the past, the challenge was the issue of weeds. But with the availability of various herbicides, farmers are able to increase the number of acreage,” he says. He recommends that one should start using herbicides when the unwanted plants have attained three to five leaf stage.
“This breed of pearl millet is able to withstand the long droughts, and it will continue growing normally even without water. It has a stay green ability which helps it retain its moisture and support its growth,” he said.
Kasule added that the crop can be used commercially in brewing but also consumed as a basic food, with additional nutritional content including iron, zinc and calcium, needed by children below five years and expectant mothers.
“Millet and sorghum are the most consumed food crops in the semi-arid areas, due to their increasing resistance to droughts and pests, while crop researchers are struggling to produce more varieties that can perform even better in the conditions,” he said.
Dr Simon Byabagambi, a crop scientists and focal person for the project at USAID challenged the breeders to involve all the key sector players in the project at all levels of value chain right to the industrialists who will consume the product in bulk.
“Much of the drought and hunger situation in the country is induced by human activity due to greed and lack of planning for our areas which has caused severe food insecurity,” says Dr Byabagambi.
Dr Byabagambi added that the government needs to develop warning systems in the different areas and equip the stations with tools, enough qualified extension workers but also involve them in initial planning.