KENYA – The Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS) is gearing up to unveil a cutting-edge laboratory dedicated to roots, tubers, and banana crops in a venture set to benefit farmers in Kenya and across East Africa.

This initiative, costing USD 2 million (Ksh260 million), is a joint effort with the International Potato Centre (CIP) and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA).

According to Prof. Theophilus Mutui, Managing Director of KEPHIS, the state-of-the-art facility aims to significantly reduce the time it takes to test and release new planting materials.

Traditionally, this process could span from 10 to 13 years, but with the new laboratory, it is expected to be slashed to less than five years.

Named the Roots, Tubers, and Bananas-East Africa Germplasm Exchange Laboratory (RTB-EAGEL), the facility is poised to revolutionize agricultural practices in the region.

It aims to preserve and enhance crop genetic diversity, crucial for ensuring food security and sustainable development.

Prof. Mutui emphasized the laboratory’s role in expediting the multiplication of planting materials and improving cleaning processes, thanks to advancements in tissue culture techniques.

The EAGEL lab is designed to address three key interventions: expediting the testing and approval of new varieties, managing pests and diseases effectively, and supplying high-quality nucleus seeds to the seed system. Services will include diagnostics, pathogen elimination, genotyping, and regional distribution of germplasm.

Dr. Morag Ferguson, representing IITA, highlighted the lab’s primary objective of facilitating the safe movement of roots, tubers, and bananas, crucial for enhancing food security in the region. By streamlining the process, breeders can swiftly develop and deliver improved varieties to farmers.

Elly Otieno, a scientist from CIP, stressed the growing demand for root tuber crops and bananas due to their high caloric content.

He underscored the project’s significance in expediting the cleaning process of planting materials, ensuring high-quality materials for farmers.

One of the project’s key aims is to address data management issues by establishing a centralized database.

This database will enable breeders to access germplasm developed by various programs, fostering collaboration and resource sharing across borders.

Otieno also highlighted Kenya’s suboptimal tuber crop production, citing potatoes yielding far below their potential.

The new laboratory, situated at the KEPHIS Plant Quarantine and Biosecurity Station in Muguga, is set to become a center of excellence in the field.

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