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[BUJUMBURA] Public and private agricultural research centres in ten East and Central African countries will form a network to promote the rapid adoption of a plant breeding method in the region.

Plant tissue culture (TC) uses plant cells or tissue from a healthy mother plant to grow thousands of young plants. The method reduces the risk of disease and produces more uniform crops that grow at the same rate.

The network was agreed at a workshop in Bujumbura, Burundi last week (29 November – 1 December), organised by the Uganda-based Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA).

The association comprises research institutes in Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda.

Participants, who included farmers, plant scientists and private entrepreneurs, asked the association to create a database to produce and store data on crop-diseases. This would help identify which diseases should be tackled first and how many young plants should be grown using TC in the sub-Sahara region.

The network, whose office is expected to be in Kenya or Uganda, would enable researchers, farmers and businesses involved in TC to meet regularly.

ASARECA also pledged to help scientists improve their business skills, and develop intellectual property policies for researchers to enable them to make full use of new agricultural technologies.

The public sector has a duty to empower farmers and support private sector services, said Tilahun Zeweldu, a regional coordinator for the international Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project II.

But John Bahana of AgroSystems Consulting Centre in Uganda, warned that involving public institutions in the network will create conflicts of interest and limit the desired rapid transfer of technology.

Delegates also called for the establishment of gene banks and urged public bodies to better cooperate with the private sector. Adequate public support is key for the success of private firms in TC they said, for instance to deliver orders on time for farmers.

The workshop was funded by the United States Agency for International Development.

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