First-ever Potato Tissue Culture Laboratory in East and Central Africa Commissioned in Uganda

By David Rupiny

Speaker of the Parliament of Uganda, Rebecca Kadaga, commissioning the factory.

First-ever Potato Tissue Culture Laboratory in East and Central Africa Commissioned in Uganda

KAMPALA, April 26, 2021:- The Speaker of Parliament, Rt. Hon. Rebecca Kadaga, was Thursday commissioned the first-ever Irish Potato Tissue Culture Laboratory in East and Central Africa.

Agro-Genetic Technologies Ltd. (AGT Laboratories), located 32 kilometres to the east of the capital Kampala in Namawojjolo on the Kampala-Jinja highway.

AGT Laboratories is part of Uganda Investment Authority investment licensee, AGT Group of Companies, which also operates another tissue culture laboratory on the Kampala-Masaka highway.

The laboratories use biotechnology through tissue culture for micro propagation (multiplication) of different crops like Irish potato, coffee, banana, pineapple and other crops.

AGT Laboratories is targeting the regions of Kigezi and Sebei, as well as Zombo District in West Nile, for distribution of the Irish potato plantlets, as well as neighbouring countries.

Started 20 years ago, AGT was the first Ugandan tissue culture initiative to scale up and commercialize, transforming into the biggest tissue culture laboratory in East and Central Africa. Its market now spans Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and South Sudan.

Cumulatively, both laboratories have the capacity to produce up to 10 million tissue culture plants per annum, depending on the type of crop.

AGT has also set up 500 demonstration plots throughout Uganda in order to transfer best agronomic practices to farmers, free of charge.

Speaking at the commissioning event, the Chief Executive Officer and Chairman, Erostus Nsubuga, appealed to the Government to create an enabling environment for private sector growth, including biotechnology development. He reasoned that Government should invest in research which can then be used and commercialized by the private sector.

Nsubuga said development of biotechnology would translate into new processes, products, jobs, increase revenues and boost economic growth. He appealed to Parliament to involve the private sector in formulation of laws and regulations, adding that it was high time the biotechnology bill, in the works for 10 years, was passed into law.

Nsubuga cited some of the achievements of AGT Laboratories as supply of tens of millions of disease-free plants, significant reduction in pests and diseases, improved agronomic practices, creation of jobs for scientists and other professionals, amongst others.

Speaker Kadaga said her tour of the AGT Laboratories has revealed the urgency to put in place a good regulatory framework for biotechnology development. She said the Ugandan government is supportive of science and technology that is why it has created a whole ministry for it.

The Speaker said it is important that the private sector works in sync with the Government as well as Parliament.

She said she was very happy with what is happening in the laboratories and promised to push for a common-ground meeting involving the Executive, Parliament and biotechnologists like AGT Laboratories.

The Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Elioda Tumwesigye, hailed AGT Laboratories as a centre for excellence for tissue culture propagation in East and Central Africa. He said all efforts are being made to harmonize issues in the biotechnology bill in order to make it a good law for everyone.

UIA’s Director Investment Promotion and Business Development, Sheila K. Mugyenzi, said the Authority walked with AGT Laboratories and ensured that it takes off and keeps growing. She said it is key to improve the regulatory framework in order to promote private sector participation in biotechnology innovations.

The Chairman of Technical Working Group on Agriculture under the Presidential Investors’ Round Table (PIRT), Mahmood Hudda, said the major constraint for farmers in Uganda is that they are not capable of competing with their counterparts in the region. He said other countries in the region have already legislated on biotechnology and Uganda is already importing their products manufactured using biotechnology.

Hudda said through biotechnology, Ugandan farmers will be able to leverage advantages like productivity, yields and quality of their produce. He appealed to the Government and Parliament to expedite passing of the biotechnology bill, arguing that it will boost Uganda’s agricultural sector.

Advantages of tissue-cultured plants:

  • Production of true-to-type and uniform plants of any number and in a very short time – key in commercial farming where the market requires consistent quantity and quality in a short time.
  • Mass production of planting materials whose natural rate of propagation (multiplication) is relatively low.
  • Availability of year-round planting materials. This helps in planning scheduled supply of products of exactly the same quality (size, taste, colour, etc.) throughout the year to consumers and export markets.
  • Availability of pathogen and pest-free planting materials. Compared to conventional planting materials, tissue culture-derived plantlets have high quality, earlier and more vigorous sucker production, as well as higher yield advantage of 40 percent over conventional planting materials, in the case of banana.

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