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[genet-news] GMO-FREE PRODUCTS & SEEDS: Ugandan scientist announce development of wilt resistant non-GE coffee varieties

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SOURCE: New Vision Online, Uganda

AUTHOR: Ronald Kalyango


DATE:   01.04.2009

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TWELVE years ago, Coffee Research Centre (COREC) scientists embarked on developing a coffee variety resistant to the Coffee Wilt Disease (CWD), which attacks Robusta coffee.

Today, they report a major breakthrough in the variety?s development. A total of 24 lines of Curtimors (dwarf coffee) are now under final field tests before they are released to farmers.

?Out of the 24 lines, eight lines are being tested in the fields and preliminary information shows that the varieties have exhibited the highest levels of resistance not only to the CWD but also to other coffee diseases,? said Dr. Pascal Musoli, a plant breeder at the Kituza Research Centre in Mukono.

He said in 2007, Kamuli, Mukono, Mityana and Ibanda were chosen to test the coffee in the fields. Musoli said while briefing MPs who were on field visits of coffee farms in Mityana and Mubende recently: ?We want to have complete data before the variety release committee recommends to the crop protection department of the agriculture ministry the availability of the resistant varieties.?

He said field tests would help scientists determine the line, which produces good quality coffee beans. The best performing lines will be given out to private nursery operators for multiplication so that they are distributed to farmers.

This process, Musoli said, takes between three to four years. However, he said some farmers in Mukono and Wakiso could have the resistant varieties next year. He assured the legislators that by the end of this year, they would have enough information to guide farmers.

He said the wilt had affected all the traditional Robusta growing districts, with about 45% of Robusta trees killed by the disease by 2003.

?Now, we don?t know the rate at which the disease is spreading, but there is information that even the replanted trees have been affected,? said Musoli.

Statistics from the Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA) show that Uganda has been losing $27m per annum due to the coffee wilt disease.

They also show that about 200 million coffee seedlings are needed to replace the coffee trees that have been destroyed by the wilt.

Uganda is Africa?s second largest coffee producer after Ethiopia. It became a major player in coffee production after political unrest in former top grower, Ivory Coast.

But now, the wilt is affecting Uganda?s coffee output and slashing earnings.

UCDA?s board secretary Fred Luzinda said the wilt threat was serious, adding that the short-term responsemust be proper farm management, which helps temporarily.

?All the plants that are still good succumb to the wilt as much as the weak ones. As a short-term measure, we are emphasising good husbandry and good farming practices, he said. Luzinda said: ?In addition to Uganda?s coffee being grown on a small-scale, it is also grown primarily by the elderly. They are easy to mobilise and have a lot of attachment to their crops. The challenge is for them to implement what they have been told to do.

UCDA was established by a statute in 1994 to promote and oversee the development of the coffee industry through research, quality assurance and improved marketing.

Luzinda said the coffee wilt, tracheomycosis or vascular wilt disease, is caused by a fungus (Fusarium xylarioides). Previously, the disease only occurred sporadically in Africa but in the last decade, it has become virulent, sweeping across Cameroon, the Congo and into Uganda.

According to UCDA, the wilt mainly affects the native, lowland robusta variety and since 1993, it has destroyed over 12 million plants. However, Arabica coffee, which is grown in the highlands, has not been affected by the disease.

Arabica accounts for only 10% of the coffee produced in Uganda. Unfortunately, the clonal varieties NARO started promoting in 1993 have also been found to be susceptible to the disease although, by planting all six clonal lines, overall losses are reduced since some lines prove less susceptible than others.

Uganda is the largest producer of Robusta coffee in Africa but, as the disease continues to spread and the unusually dry weather persists, exports have declined.

An average mature Robusta bush can bear about 5,000 cherries per season, while clonal Robusta can produce between 10,000 and 20,000 depending on the level of husbandry practised.

Coffee provides an important source of income to the 500,000 smallholder farmers who traditionally intercrop it with food crops like bananas, beans, groundnuts and shade trees.

According to UCDA, nearly five million people depend on coffee for direct and indirect employment.

In the face of this threat, Luzinda said UCDA had intensified efforts towards containment of the disease through a replanting programme where clean planting materials are provided to the farmers through community-based nurseries.

?Each year, we want to distribute 20 million coffee plantlets to farmers. We are optimistic that by 2015, Uganda will be exporting about 4.5 million coffee bags annually,? he said.



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