Namibian farmers have started testing the first batch of 4 staple crop seeds that were treated by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Austria through irradiation. The crops have been adapted to Namibian conditions by local agricultural scientists using the induced mutation breeding method.
The project, which covers cowpeas, pearl millet, sorghum and the bambara groundnut, was jointly sponsored by the IAEA and the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), in conjunction with the Namibian Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry.
The objective was to apply mutation breeding techniques to develop high yielding, early maturing and high-resilience crop varieties that can survive drought, insects and other pests. The research used applied crop-breeding methods that are designed to mitigate the agricultural impacts of climate change.
Agriculture, Water and Forestry Minister John Mutorwa said the project, which began in 2009, is aimed at generating a new range of drought tolerant, early maturing seed varieties that could be adapted to Namibia’s arid conditions.
He said the new varieties were selected on the basis of best performing varieties that were judged on the basis of agronomic qualities that include yield per hectare, early maturity, grain quality and nutritional value.
In total, 15 cowpea varieties will be rolled out to smallholder farmers and 7 are presently being released to farmers in some regions. Out of 12 sorghum varieties vetted as suitable for farming in Namibia, 4 have been released to farmers.
Although 16 pearl millet varieties qualified for Namibian production, the roll-out has been mothballed following the detection of high rates of contamination during seed multiplication.
Mutorwa said further research will be undertaken to ensure that the projects achieved the best pearl millet varieties suited for Namibia.
Farmers were advised to buy the test seeds from all agricultural extension offices where pearl millet and sorghum are available at subsidised prices of N$20.50 (R20.50) per 2 kg bag, while cowpeas are selling for N$24.00 (R24.00) per 2 kg bag.
CALL FOR PARLIAMENTARY APPROVAL
Further, Mutorwa said the roll-out of new seed varieties was being frustrated by Parliament’s failure to approve pending bills that contain critical legislation on seeds, seed varieties, plant breeders and farmers’ rights.
“The bills were promptly approved in principle by Cabinet and referred to the Cabinet Committee on Legislation, which comprehensively discussed, scrutinised, approved and referred the said bills to the government’s legal drafters,” he added.
“Since then, the important bills remain chained and imprisoned with the legal drafters to whom they were referred. This is not good. It is frustrating,” Mutorwa said. The bills have been awaiting parliamentary attention for the past 7 years.