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The East African : Sep 1st 2014
36 The EastAfrican OUTLOOK AUGUST 30 - SEPTEMBER 5, 2014 $8.5m gene project for food security East Africa has a large gene pool of crops, which could help tackle climate change, pests and diseases By ISAAC KHISA Special Correspondent to conserve indigenous plant genetic resources to improve food security across East Africa. Plant genetic resources are seeds E and planting materials (traditional and modern varieties, crop and wild plant species) that can be used to develop crop varieties resistant to pests and diseases as well as tolerant to climate change. Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (Asareca) executive director Dr Fina Opio said the $8.5 million project funded by the Swedish International Development Corporation Agency, will see scientists across East Africa, including Somalia, Madagascar, and South Sudan collect, store and share information on the available plant genetic resources. “The project will also enhance the utilisation of the conserved materials by completing the characterisation, evaluation and documentation of the accessed materials,” Dr Opio said. So far, 140,000 accessions (collec- tions of plant materials from particular locations) have been collected and conserved in the various national gene-banks in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Madagascar and Sudan, Dr Opio said. Of these, over 27,000 accessions have been adequately characterised and 1,416 accessions evaluated for various agronomic and nutritional qualities, yield potential and for drought tolerance and thus ready to be taken up by farmers. The project takes on urgency ast African crop scientists have embarked on a five-year project ‘Young women less likely to use bi≥th cont≥ol’ By OTIATO GUGUYU Special Correspondent YOUNG WOMEN in Nairobi slums are less likely to use contraceptives than older and married women. According to the Africa Popula- tion and Health Research Centre Nairobi Slums Survey, younger women aged 15-19 years, women with no formal education, and sexually active unmarried women performed poorly on most of the indicators compared with women in other socio-economic groups. The report that sought to quan- One of the drought tolerant plants, the Epuripur improved sorghum, which was released in 1995. Pic: Morgan Mbabazi MATERIALS IN STORE About 140,000 collections of plant materials from particular locations — referred to as accessions — have been collected and conserved in the various national gene-banks in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, against a backdrop of climate change, social and political unrest, invasion of alien species, inadequate recognition of the value of traditional knowledge systems and expanding population pressure, threatening the existence of indigenous plant species viable for plant breeding in the region. According to the Food and Ag- ricultural Organisation, the world population is expected to rise from the current seven billion people to nine billion by 2050, putting more pressure on land to feed the rising population. Whereas the indigenous planting materials have low yields per unit area compared with the improved varieties, modern plant breeders revert to traditional plants to obtain the genes that are useful Madagascar and Sudan. Of these, over 27,000 accessions have been adequately characterised and 1,416 accessions evaluated for various agronomic and nutritional qualities, yield potential and for drought tolerance. for breeding programmes to address a particular agricultural problem. According to the managing di- rector of Ethiopia-based Climate and Natural Resources Management Consulting, Dr Abebe Demissie Tefera, East Africa has various crops with wild relatives (wild plants closely related to the domestic plant) that exhibit a large gene pool, which could help tackle climate change, pests and diseases. For example, Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya, Eritrea and Sudan have a wide collection of genetic resources, including cereals, legumes, oils crops, millets and forage species as well as those with high pharmaceutical values such as Prunus Africana, Warbugia ugandensis, and Fagara macrophilla. Dr Abebe said sorghum and mil- let are unusually drought tolerant crops, whose potential can be harnessed to increase production in African countries in response to climate change. “The wild relatives of these crops probably hold the key to food security and increased agricultural productivity in the region as sources of genes for adaptive traits in the wake of climate change,” Dr. Abebe said. In February, the African Orphan Crops Consortium released a list of 100 indigenious crop species — among them the African eggplant, amaranth, guava and cassava, finger millet and sorghum — whose genomes the consortium plans to sequence, assemble and annotate to improve nutrition on the continent. The list is being disseminated so that researchers around the world can contact the consortium with suggestions for research. The research is to be conduct- ed at the Nairobi-based African Plant Breeding Academy hosted at the World Agroforestry Centre, with improved planting materials offered to smallholder farmers throughout Africa. Ove≥ 7,000 elephants counted in joint ae≥ial census By ADAM IHUCHA Special Correspondent THE POPULATION OF elephants in the Serengeti-Maasai Mara ecosystem has increased over the past 28-years, inspite of rising poaching in East Africa. In an aerial census of elephants and buffaloes conducted jointly by Kenya and Tanzania in May and June, the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem receorded an elephant population of 7,535 — from 2,058 in 1986. The most recent estimate of the population was 3,419 elephants in 2006. Further analyses of data reveal more elephants in the south — Serengeti National Park — at 6,075 than in the north – Maasai Mara Game Reserve — at 1,440. Census report also shows that 61,896 buffa- loes were counted, representing a 13 percent increase compared with 54,979 buffaloes counted in 1986. “The results provide the highest population “The census results are a clear indication of good conservation practices.” Lazaro Nyalandu, Tanzania Tourism Minister estimates ever recorded in history; a clear indication of increasing trends as a result of good conservation practices,” Tanzania’s Natural Resources and Tourism Minister Lazaro Nyalandu said at the launch of the report. The minister said joint surveys carried out in the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem provide useful information for conservation, policy formulation and tourism. Available statistics show that Tanzania loses nearly 10,000 elephants per year through poaching, while the Kenya Wildlife Society reported the country lost 873 elephants to poaching between 2011 and 2014. Wildlife lovers across the East African region have raised alarm over the killing of wildlife by poachers under pressure from the swelling demand for ivory in China and Thailand, according to Traffic, a wildlife trade-monitoring group. Dr Paula Kahumbu, executive director of the Kenya Land Conservation Trust and Wildlife Direct, said that Tanzania and Kenya will suffer if elephant numbers keep falling due to poaching. Older and married women living in Nairobi slums are likely to use contraceptives. Picture: File tify 10 years of civil society and government intervention and the effect on the slum population revealed that contraceptive use among sexually active unmarried women declined between 2000 and 2012. The finding suggests that these women have not been directly targeted with family planning information and services in the past 10 years. Provide a wider choice “It is, therefore, imperative to expand the range of methods available to widen choice and that family planning clients receive adequate counselling to minimise the resistance,” Dr Blessing Mberu, head of the Urbanisation and Wellbeing Programme, said. Though the study cited water, sanitation, unemployment and poor housing as the city’s poor’s most pressing needs, it also gave insightful data into the impact of health programmes on the population patterns in slum areas. The study showed that a nota- ble decrease in the fertility rate among women in slum areas occurred in the past 10 years. On average, every woman had three children as compared with four in a similar survey conducted in 2000. The rate was even lower than at the national level (4.6) and rural Kenya (5.2).
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