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SADC member farmers demand improved hybrid seeds

posted 24 May 2012, 08:27 by Mpelembe   [ updated 24 May 2012, 08:27 ]

The Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) Plant Genetic resources centre in Lusaka is helping secure plant and seed varieties for 14 member countries. But just how well prepared is the bank to create varieties that can withstand effects of climate change conditions for farmers in the region?

In Zambia's capital, Lusaka, scientists examine seeds stored at a seed bank run by the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
The SADC Plant Genetic Resources Centre (SPGRC) has a range of plant genetic information that's been collected from the region over the years. The resources are kept here and developed for production of cereals, vegetables and other crops cultivated in the region.

Loratoli Quobela is the manager of Ex-Situ Conservation, a department that processes seeds at the centre, from harvesting to storage.

"The temperature for a base collection as we are keeping a base collection here is minus twenty degrees centigrade. It allows us to keep the germplasm here for as much as more than thirty years at the minimum but we are aiming at over fifty years," he said.

Set up in 1988, the seed bank now has over hundreds of seed samples collected from member countries by national gene banks.

The programme has helped supply farmers with good seed varieties for over two decades, normally used by farmers who can't afford to buy hybrid seeds.

Thandie Lupupa is the manager of In-Situ or On Farm Conservation at the SADC centre. She says that preserving indigenous crops helps increase different affordable varieties in the market and at the same time contributes towards meeting the rising demand for food.

"Most of the small scale farmers of the region they use recycled seed. They don't have financial resources to buy seed every season, so they rely mostly on the local traditional crops. This centre is promoting the conservation in the use of those traditional crops."

Zambia has over 30 million hectares of arable land.

Output for the country's staple maize crop, declined by about 6 percent to 2.8 million tonnes in the 2011/2012 season, from 3 million tonnes last year, but it still has a huge maize surplus because of carry-over stocks from last year and is planning to export some of the excess maize to Zimbabwe.

Zambia needs just over 2.5 million tonnes of maize for human consumption, strategic reserves, stock feed and brewing.

Erratic rains delayed the planting of this year's maize crop, raising the possibility of a poor harvest.

However, farmers like Stephen Pupe say that to fight climate change better, they need improved seed varieties that can withstand the changing weather patterns.

He cultivates the affordable seed varieties but says they often don't yield good harvests.

"They way maize was performing is different and the seed banks need to recognize that and provide us with seed that is going to perform at its optimum in this new climate because I just buy the regular early maturing seed but it wont survive the low temperatures of a hilly place of the low temperature of a valley like this one we are in," he said.

The seed center says it's working on improving hardy crops as well as implementing mechanisms that can prepare farmers better for the effects of climate change.

Zambia, like many Southern African nations, is seeing increasing prolonged dry seasons and short periods of heavy rainfall, changes believed to be linked to climate shifts.

With most of the country's population reliant on small-scale farming for a living, many farmers are switching to hardier crops -- such as cassava rather than maize - to help ensure food security.