Uganda’s First Potato Breeder Tackles Devastating Crop Disease

Uganda’s First Potato Breeder Tackles Devastating Crop Disease

Dr Prossy Namugga has graduated with her PhD in Plant Breeding through the African Centre for Crop Improvement (ACCI) after working on the development of high-yielding and early maturing potato genotypes.

Namugga, who hails from Uganda, aimed to contribute to the country’s food security by developing high yielding and early maturing potato (Solanum tuberosum L.) genotypes with resistance to Phytophthora infestans, the agent that causes the devastating Late Blight disease in Uganda. Late Blight is one of the most infamous diseases in agriculture, causing the Irish potato famine.

The potato crop – which is grown by about 300 000 smallholder households – is important in Uganda. The country is the ninth largest producer of the vegetable crop in Africa, with an annual production of 774 600 tons harvested from about 106 000 hectares. It is both a staple food and a major source of household income; with many women and children involved in field production activities.

Thanks to this cutting-edge research, Namugga, who works as a Senior Research Officer and the Crops Research and Development Programme Leader at Uganda’s National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO), is now the first potato breeder in the country. ‘This research gave me the opportunity to conduct hands-on breeding,’ said Namugga. ‘My practical breeding skills were enhanced, my professional network grew, and my research exposed to me to experienced professors and instructors who taught me a lot,’ she added.

Her research was made possible by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), at whose conference in Mali Namugga first encountered the ACCI through its graduates. She was in the process of conducting her Master’s at Makerere University, funded by AGRA, when she began investigating pursuing her PhD degree with the ACCI. She said that the programme’s first-year of intensive coursework helped prepare her for the subsequent three years of practical research in Uganda.

Her selected high-yielding, early-maturing and resistant potato genotype families are now being bulked for further evaluation and selection for release as varieties in Uganda.

Namugga expressed her appreciation to her supervisors, Dr Julia Sibiya and Professor Rob Melis, for their technical support and continuous advice. She also thanked her in-country supervisor, Dr Alex Barekye. She said she is indebted to AGRA for the scholarship provided through the ACCI, without which she would not have been able to conduct her research. She also expressed gratitude to Professor Mark Laing of the ACCI and the entire ACCI staff for their facilitation and logistical support. She also credited fellow students and friends for making her research a success.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Rajesh Jantilal