Botswana may in future no longer need to import groundnuts should the ongoing research by the Department of Agricultural Research in Sebele bear fruit.
There is optimism that the research will possibly result in the production of a new groundnut seed.
The seed is currently under tests as this is a special seed and it’s the department’s first attempt to produce something of this nature. This research is also known as plant breeding.
The research is being conducted in conjunction with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which has sponsored the research with USD 240 000. The money includes the infrastructure that is required to run the research and includes certain staff members who have had to be trained. The government of Botswana has also parted with a certain amount to help make this project a success.
The research, if it bears fruit, will increase the groundnut yield, thus help the country to stop depending on other countries for supply. The seeds were exposed to radiation in Vienna, Austria, at the headquarters of IAEA.
The first mutated seeds (M1) are planted and the seeds obtained from M1 are planted to produce M2 and here the process of selection is done. The agriculture research team is still at this level.
At the M3 stage, they hope to have mutated plants only and then run the test again to verify that the results are the same.
Dr Qingyao SHU a representative from IAEA said, “Crop mutation breeding is nothing new as it dates back to 1928. In India, groundnuts were also mutated and the results were impressive.”
Dr. SHU is also a plant breeder and was here in Botswana to see how the progress of how our team was progressing.
Dr. Stephen Chite, the chief agricultural research officer, distinguished mutation breeding from genetic transformation. He said “genetic transformation is where genes from one creature are placed into a different creature. This is also known as the GMO but mutation breeding is simply exposing seeds to radiation.”
He went to state that, currently, they are not involved in genetic transformation.
SHU mentioned that in the 6 years he has been with the IAEA, there has never been a report that could be linked to mutated plants having any human side effects. He used examples of developed countries such as the USA and Peru that are involved in crop mutation breeding. This can ensure Batswana that what is being done at Sebele is nothing new.
Dr Chite also estimates that if they do manage to produce a new variety of groundnuts, it will have to go through intensive testing of different management.
The Department of Agriculture research has a number of stations around the country.
The seeds will be tested for both biotic and abiotic factors and be exposed to different management during trials at various stations around the country.
Also the nutritional and industrial value will be checked.
He also mention that this method is shorter than recombination (cross-breeding) as plant mutation breeding takes about 6-8 years before the end results are known where as recombination takes more time. Dr. Chite is optimistic that one day they will bear fruits as the current steps show encouraging results.