To plant or not to plant improved seeds

There is an ongoing debate about whether farmers should grow modern crops, replacing traditional crops and whether they should plant saved seed from previous harvests on their farms or incur the cost of purchasing seed. from seed companies and agricultural research stations.

Some farmers and civil society organizations claim that buying seeds every planting season is an unnecessary expense and only makes farming more expensive, reducing profits.

Seed from agricultural research stations and seed companies is often called improved seed.

They are often seen as newcomers to Ugandan agriculture aiming to destroy the ability of smallholders to freely manage their seed sources and leading to loss of crop biodiversity.

Some people even argue that when traditional smallholder farmers lose control of their seed sources, they go to lab-based corporate researchers; there will be a loss of agricultural sovereignty.

Each ethnic community has cultures that are believed to be sovereign. Yet many food crops that we now call sovereign to our ethnic communities, such as maize and cassava, were in fact introduced to us from distant lands many, many generations ago.

The common practice among many smallholders is for a farmer to harvest maize and save a few combs of maize to use as seed for the next planting season.

Gerald Ssendaula, former finance minister and leading farmer, believes that the practice of saving seed from previous harvests is practiced by the poorest category of farmers who cannot afford to buy improved seed or who ignore the benefits of sowing improved seeds. “Most of these farmers grow food crops for their own consumption,” he says. “However, if the farmer is serious about farming as an income-generating activity, he must be ready to buy improved seeds. Seeds from seed companies or agricultural research organizations are clean and disease-free. The farmer who plants seed saved from the previous harvest runs the risk of using seed that is already diseased, which can lead to low yields and loss of income,” he adds. The words of Ssendaula are also repeated in the Bible in Matthew chapter 7, verse 17: “Therefore, every good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit.

The food crops and ornamental trees and flowers we grow today were once wild plants and harvested from the wild by humans. It is also true that livestock and birds such as cattle, goats, pigs, chickens and sheep among others were part of the wild life in the jungle.

Most of them looked different from the varieties we have today, because for thousands of years man has improved them and protected them from the vagaries of nature.

Noel Kingsbury, author of the book Hybrid, which analyzes the history of plant breeding science, said: “They were watered if they got too dry, fed with fertilizers if the soil was too poor, and weeded— i.e. competing plants removed.They have been crossed with better breeds to improve the quality of their meat or their milk production and, in the case of the chicken, mankind has improved their egg production through animal husbandry Livestock were protected from dangerous animals such as lions and leopards and the farmer always fought against crop pests and diseases.

European cows were crossed with African cows to improve milk production. Today, scientists are hybridizing crops to come up with better varieties and higher yields.

Grafting, which is the union of two distinct plant structures, the scion and the rootstock, is another form of crop improvement. Cloning, which involves selecting and cutting the branches of favorite plants and causing them to sprout, is another way to improve crops.

Tissue culture which uses biotechnology to propagate crops is also a form of crop improvement. Genetic modification is now used in many countries to reduce pest attacks on crops and minimize the use of pesticides by farmers. Genetic modification is also used to improve the nutritional value of certain food crops and thus exorcise undernutrition and related health problems.

Joseph Nkandu, coffee farmer and executive director of the National Union of Agro-Industrial and Agricultural Coffee Enterprises (NUCAFE), said: “We strongly encourage all our farmers to plant cloned coffee seedlings obtained from Robusta coffee nurseries. approved because they grow quickly. , they are resistant to most coffee diseases, they have a high yield and they have large coffee beans. These are the varieties that farmers need to plant if they want to increase their household income.

He went on to explain that given the current challenges of climate change, farmers cannot ignore the benefits of scientific agricultural research. “Due to population explosion and land fragmentation, many farmers work on small plots. So they can’t plant seeds that are prone to disease and likely to give low yields,” he notes.

Charles Katabalwa, a skilled farmer and managing director of the Community Enterprise Development Organization (CEDO) which promotes bean production in the greater Masaka region, says; “Whenever possible, farmers should take advantage of improved seeds approved by agricultural research institutes. Planting saved seed from a previous crop is risky, especially for maize growers, as yields tend to be lower and the risk of pest spread is greater. Moreover, most farmers do not have the capacity to store saved seeds properly, which makes it even more risky for them to plant such seeds.

For farmers, opting for home-saved seed would ignore the contribution of agricultural researchers to the growth and improvement of agriculture.

In an age of population explosion and climate change, our farmers should embrace the many breakthroughs made by crop breeders, including the release of improved crop varieties that are high yielding, drought tolerant and early maturing.