A scientist at Avagro near Swakopmund has been exploring options for growing disease-free bananas and date palms to help Namibian farmers diversify their crops and get better yields. Through a process called tissue culture, Frieda Shigwedha says Avagro's plan is to train local people on how to cultivate bananas and create jobs for themselves.

Located about 10 kilometres north of Swakopmund, Avagro is using research to find solutions to agricultural problems. This is the first commercial tissue culture laboratory in Namibia. Young Namibian Frieda Shigwedha is the supervisor of the lab, and she explains that tissue culture is a technique for replicating plant material to produce thousands of plants in a controlled environment.

"At Avagro, we have decided to tissue culture bananas, which is actually a high-value horticultural crop. Banana is the fourth most important crop in the world's food market, following wheat, rice, and maize."

Avagro has partnered up with the Namibian Agronomic Board to carry out trials in different regions of the country and train farmers on how to cultivate bananas.

"We have also identified five locations in Namibia where we can do these trials, and at the moment, we did an analysis of a land in the Zambezi Region, and we are just waiting for the lab results so that if they are favourable for banana planting, then we can just try out and see how they can thrive in the climate there."

Date palms are also tissue cultured in this lab to ensure that farmers in the south grow female plants that produce fruits fit for the local and export markets. Shigwedha's focus also extends to multiplying indigenous medicinal plants in this lab to preserve the genes of plants under threat due to climate change or exploitation. Avagro has agreements in place with two of Namibia's universities, NUST and UNAM, offering students a platform from which to seek solutions through applied research.

"So here I got a chance to learn different skills, and this is one of them: tissue culture of plants. So it has been very inspiring to me. And I really love the process. So I just want to encourage students, mainly, that they are welcome to do their research projects with us here at Avagro because this is like applied research. So it requires a lot of patience and passion about what you're doing, and this will actually help with food security in the long run because, I mean, it's the multiplication of fruit trees."

Avagro was awarded both the 'Outstanding Horticulture Innovator of the Year' and 'Master Crop Value Chain of the Year awards at the National Agronomy and Horticulture Awards ceremony, held last week.



Renathe Rengura