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Young scientists urged to work for food security through conventional methods

Dec 13, 2019, 1:28 PM

“We are relying on you, and will surely depend on you  if we are to become self-sufficient in food,” Demba Trawally, acting deputy director general of the National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI) told 25 young scientists, who are  currently being trained in plant breeding.

The Gambia is a net importer of food and produces only half of its national requirements of staple foods for the population estimated at 1.9 million. This is partly due to lack of local breeders who can develop varieties to help the country attain the long cherished dream of achieving national food security.

For over three decades, NARI – the national agency mandated to carry out plant breeding - is grappling with inadequate human resources and the required infrastructure, and thus preventing it from having in place a fully established breeding programme. NARI is highly dependent on research institutions outside the country to do its research work.

In pursuit of its strategic objectives and in accordance with the National Development Plan (2018 – 2021), the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) is supporting the government to create a pool of experts to solve the lack of plant breeders who can develop new varieties of seeds for the country that are more climate resilient and adapted to the local ecology.

The course on rice, maize and groundnut breeders in The Gambia aims to develop the next generation of breeders that will use modern tools to enhance the precision and efficiency of their breeding programmes.  The initiative spearheaded by NARI is by FAO supported through the European Union funded project titled: “Agriculture for Economic Growth and Food Security to mitigate migration flows.”

The participants come from NARI, the Plant Protection Services under the Department of Agriculture (PPS), The Gambia College School of Agriculture, National Seed Secretariat, National Coordinating Organisation of Farmer Associations Gambia (NACOFAG) and the Variety Release Committee. 

Addressing participants at the start of the five-day Review Training in Plant Breeding, Mr. Trawally underscored the importance of the activity amidst increasing demand for foods and the impacts of climate change. He reminded participants that expectations are high and urged them to serve as the beacon of hope for The Gambia in the drive to achieve food security and zero hunger targets (SDG2). He explained that through the introduction of new crop varieties and bio fortification, the country can combat food insecurity and malnutrition, and thus achieve improved health and nutrition outcomes for the population.

For his part, Dr. Moussa Sié, senior scientist on Plant Breeding recruited by FAO and posted at NARI to build local capacities to help ensure the availability of improved cultivars, explained that participants have been equipped with the requisite knowledge and skills to identify appropriate breeding methodologies to be adopted at each step of the crop improvement programme. He noted that participants had the opportunity to share experiences with other breeders as well as receive the latest updates on areas relevant to breeding and the worldwide exchange of plant genetic resources. “Our expectation is that your knowledge on plant breeding, field setup, data collection and management has been enhanced,” Sié told the participants.

He underscored the importance FAO attaches to the activity and encouraged the participants to live up to the expectations.

Progress in breeding

So far, NARI has experimented on 35 varieties of rice. Through a participatory process involving farmers, researchers and extension officers, 10 best varieties have been selected and given to farmers for seed multiplication.

In the same vein, 68 groundnut and 16 maize varieties have been cultivated and are currently under observation. Researchers are closely monitoring the vegetative, flowering and maturing stages before involving farmers to undertake a varietal selection for further seed multiplication.