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New farming tech that keeps the food growing

Kenya Agriculture Research Institute is one organisation that has been instrumental in producing higher yeilding, disease and drought-tolerant seeds.

A while back, the institute developed improved breeds of irish potatoes called Sherekea and Purple Gold after many years of research which have revolutionised potato farming, consequently making the lives of farmers better.

The new breeds require less attention compared to ordinary potatoes. Sherekea is estimated to produce about 40 to 50 tonnes of potatoes per hectare whereas Purple Gold yields 25-35 tonnes per hectare.

Besides the plentiful harvests, the potatoes can tolerate viruses and resist potato blight, the plant’s worst disease.

In collaboration with the International Livestock Research Institute, the institute also came up with a type of napier grass — Kakamega 1 known for its high yields and resistant to diseases. 

And with more than 70 per cent of Kenyans earning their living from farming, research in coming up with crops or seeds that can withstand drought and environmental changes is necessary.

Extensive research

However, this can only be achieved through extensive research and continuous development and improvement of seeds.

This explains why decades after the introduction of hybridisation, scientists are still in laboratories refining and inventing newer ways of plant breeding.

Gregor Mendel, the father of genetics, came up with plant hybridisation.

He achieved this by interbreeding closely related plants for a desirable outcome. The process marked the first step towards science of genetics.

However, commercial viability of plant breeding did not happen until late 1890s when Garton Ltd, a firm owned by two brothers invented the first scientific farm plant breeding, credited with inventing the process of multiple cross fertilisation of plants.

Maize was among the first species for research and Mendel’s theory of hybridisation was put to good use.

Marcus Rhoades, another scientist, came up with a process that ensured that the maize produced sterile pollen enabling production of hybrids without physically pollinating them.

Word spread around the world about the discoveries in agriculture in the 19th century. 

The popularity of the practices led to a green revolution in which multiple technologies enabling hybridisation, induced mutations, genetic engineering among other methods came up. 

The methods resulted in increased food production especially in developing countries in the 1960s.

The scientific methods are known to make breeds that produce higher yields besides tolerating drought. The plants are also known to bear pests and prevent resistance of herbicides.

Unlike decades ago when farmers had one option of selecting the best seeds to guarantee a bumper harvest, modern day farmers are better placed with different methods of improving quality of seeds available.