Lack of improved agricultural planting material is a major bottleneck for many farming communities in Uganda. And yet access to high quality planting materials which include multiplication and propagation is essential for wealth creation and alleviation of poverty in the rural areas where the majority of farmers live.
In order to stem the problem of lack of improved planting materials, a multi-billion agricultural laboratory has been set up in Ngezi Kyenjojo district to produce and market a range of high quality crop and agro-forestry seedlings to small scale and commercial farmers across the country.
Royal Plants and Nurseries laboratory the biggest in the country with modern equipment imported from Turkey is working with agricultural scientists from
National Research Institutes like the National Agricultural Research Laboratories (NARL) Kawanda, Coffee Research Centre (COREC) and National Forestry Authority (NFA) to provide farmers with improved planting materials.
Royal Plants and Nurseries (RPN) Ltd which was incorporated in 2009 as a private company and owned by one of Ugandas leading farmers and agricultural produce exporter, Mr Chris Kaijuka, was originally tasked with the mandate to enhance the farming of Macadamia nut in western Uganda. The company had to propagate macadamia and distribute high quality grafted seedlings to farmers to ensure sustainable supply of the nuts for the local and international markets..
Over time, RPN has diversified its business to multiply other seedlings including coffee cloning, grafted mango, orange , pine and clonal eucalyptus seedlings. RPN with it’s technical team also assists farmers in advisory services.
The New Laboratory and Tissue Culture
According to Mr Paul Muiruri, the RPN manager, in 2012 the management of the company made a major decision to develop capacity in the modern biotechnology tools of plant tissue culture. In August 2013 RPN completed the construction of a 2-5 million plantlet per year laboratory at their facility in Kyenjojo.
The tissue culture laboratory will produce high quality disease free plantlets of coffee, banana, cassava, irish potato as the major crops from the new tissue culture technology. Later, it is expected to use the technique to propagate other high value trees and ornamentals. This is a shift from the propagation of seedlings from crop seeds to leaf tissue culture.
“This new technology of leaf tissue culture will greatly increase our capacity because there is big demand for high quality planting materials in the country. The government has been steadfast in its campaign for agricultural modernization and RPN will play a big role in availing farmers with improved crop planting materials,” Muiruri explains.
He said that the new laboratory will have the capacity of producing between 2-5 million plantlets of coffee a year with effect from September next year (first bunch of plantlets). That will increase from 750,000 plantlets of coffee which are being propagated by the facility currently and distributed in seven sub-counties in Kyenjojo district.
At the new laboratory, the company will be in position to accelerate diffusion and adoption of new varieties to farmers, which will not only increase food and nutrition supply but also generate higher income while adding value in the food and wealth creation system.
“ We also want to create partnerships at all levels including government and public interest groups to develop information on varieties development and usage by both small scale and commercial farmers, ” Muiruri said.
aBi Trust support in setting up the new tissue culture crop multiplication plant
aBi Trust has since extended a shs. 1.1bn grant to RPN which has been spent to:
- Construct three additional hardening shades
- Construct an automated screen house
- Establish a shade tree nursery
- Upgrade an irrigation system
- Procurement of lab tools and equipments
- Modification of interior of the building (from office and hall block to laboratory )
- Procurement of a laminar flow
- Support on professional services both on tissue culture lab and nursery
- Staff training.
- Construction of soil sterilization unit
With the bio technology lab in place , RPN will be in position to increase propagation of coffee seedlings, and not only multiplying but also having clean planting materials available to farmers. RPN is targeting to produce 2,000,000 plantlets per year which will be distributed to an estimated 500,000 smallholder farmers. The company will also provide jobs to more than 100 people who will get direct employment to handle two million plantlets annually.
How the new tissue culture technology works
Tissue culture technology propagation is done through use of leaves or suckers, which is different from cloning where propagation is done using cuttings (internodes of a stem) or grafting where root stock is joined with hybrid. Another method of propagation is by use of seeds from approved mother gardens.
Capacity of the new Tissue Culture Laboratory
- A 2 million plantlet per year tissue culture laboratory
- One high humidity propagation, plant weaning nursery automated greenhouse with a holding capacity of 50,000 plants
- Two insect proof net-houses with a combined area of 400 square metres
- Forty (45) constructed sand beds with lake sand with a capacity of producing 650,000 root stock per year.
- Seven (7) establishment and hardening area measuring 8M by 100M each with capacity of between 150,000 to 200,000 seedlings depending with type of crop.
- Five plant shade houses measuring 8M by 100M each (combined size up to 4000 square meters).
- Dispatch area measuring 6M by 40M.
- One grafting room for macadamia and eucalyptus.
Eucalyptus Mother Garden
We also have three acres (3) of eucalyptus with different varieties such as GC550,GC 796/11,GU 7 And GU8. All these varieties are doing very well in most parts of Uganda.
Coffee Mother Garden
RPN also have a mother garden for the new released coffee wilt resistant varieties, which will be used in tissue culture and cutting (methods of propagations).
With the above facilities RPN has a capacity of producing various seedlings as follows
CROP NUMBER OF SEEDLINGS PER ANNUM
- Macadamia – 500,000
- Coffee – 2,000,000
- Grafted mango – 200,000
- Grafted citrus – 200,000
- Clonal eucalyptus - 400,000
Mwiruri said that at RPN they believe in being transparent, accountable and honest in all that do.
RPN has macadamia tree nursaries on four (4) acres. It contains four varieties commonly found in Kenya i.e. MRG20, KRG 15, EMBU 1 and KMB3. All the varieties are doing well and maturing faster than in Kenya because of climate conditions and soil fertility.
Macadamia farmer groups are divided into two i.e commercial farmers and small scale farmers. In small scale we have 458 farmers with an average of 25 trees each. In commercial/large scale, we have one farmer with around 500 acres of macadamia, other have famers in this group have more than 14 acres planted.