Ugandan scientists to develop ‘sweet’ maize variety

Saturday January 3 2015

By ISAAC KHISA

Ugandan scientists are planning to develop a conventionally bred maize variety that preserves sweetness for a longer period.

Lead scientist, Dr Andrew Kigundu said that the new research to be carried out at the National Agriculture Research Laboratories, Kawanda, in collaboration with Makerere University, starting 2015, is aimed at ensuring that the green maize retains its fresh sweet taste for a bit longer after harvest for consumers.

“There’s a complaint that once our maize is harvested, it has to be eaten immediately or else it loses taste. So, we thought of developing maize varieties that can still be roasted or cooked on the cob but whose sweetness lasts for a long time like one or two weeks after harvest to ensure that people continue to enjoy the maize,” Dr Kigundu said.

Dr. Kigundu said the three lines of sweet maize obtained from Florida and Hawaii in the US containing two genes –Sugary-1 and Sugary -2 will be crossed with two local lines to transfer the sweet genes into the local maize variety.

Sweet maize or corn as it is called in the US is harvested when immature (milk stage), prepared and eaten as a vegetable, rather than a grain. Since the process of maturation involves converting sugar to starch, sweet corn is eaten fresh, canned, or frozen, before the kernels become hard and starchy.

The first sweet maize variety in Uganda dubbed Tropical Africa Sweet Maize is expected to be availed to farmers in 2017.

Maize is one of the major staple foods in Uganda and the rest of East Africa and consumed as green maize fresh on the cob, baked, boiled or roasted. The grain is also dried, ground and boiled into porridge, fermented into beer or used as animal feeds.

However, farmers say, they need to be involved in the research process for easy adoption of the final product. “We need as farmers to be consulted, ascertain all the effects of the new products -positively and negatively, socially and economically,” Charles Ogang, the president Uganda National Farmers Federation told The EastAfrican.

Currently, the price of green maize in Kampala City ranges from Ush500 ($0.18) to Ush700 ($0.25) per cob depending on the size and location. Data from the Kilimo Trust, a regional agricultural development organisation, shows that maize production in Uganda stands at 2.4 million tonnes compared with an estimated 2.7 million tonnes in Kenya and 3-4 million tonnes in Tanzania.