NaCRRI scientists reap big on Intellectual Property from commercialization of crop varieties

For the first time since the beginning of agricultural research and innovation in Uganda, NARO breeders were this April rewarded for their outstanding innovation and contribution to crop technology development, release and commercialization. Up to 30 scientists from NaCRRI who included breeders and their support teams received royalties generated by NARO from maize and bean varieties licensed to various seed companies in Uganda. This event follows process of streamlining variety licensing, allocation and access in an effort to addressing challenges in seed industry related to quality assurance, product stewardship and tracking and traceability to seed companies.

During an event organized by NARO with support from USAID’s Feed the Future Agricultural Research Activity to recognize plant breeders held on 5th April, 2023 at Kabira Country Club Kampala, the NaCRRI team received combined royalties of over shs. 114 million. The royalties come on the heels of NARO’s effort to strengthen commercialization and intellectual property protection which targets to stimulates creativity and sustain the generation of knowledge, innovation and technologies by providing incentives to scientists including a share of benefits arising from their commercialized innovations.

According to Dr. Saddik Kasim, the NARO Deputy Director General, Agricultural Technology Promotion, the purpose of this event was to motivate stakeholders to contribute to technology transfer and commercialization of NARO varieties for increased access to quality seed, enhanced creativity and compliance.

Currently, 13 seed companies are licensed to multiply and sell 77 NARO plant varieties including maize, beans, sorghum, rice, millet, sunflower among others. NARO has over the years generated and disseminated novel and improved agricultural technologies to end-users through both the public and commercial routes. However, the commercial route had for long not been optimally exploited and thus the private sector had access to technologies with little or no benefits returning to NARO.

Dr. Godfrey Asea-the Director NaCRRI and a maize breeder who received the highest package of royalties during the event noted that this will help to motivate the young scientists and increased varietal turnover for the benefit of farmers.

Dr. Asea has been the national maize coordinator and lead maize breeder for more than 16 years and has extensive experience in the commercial development of germplasm through breeding and R&D management. He has released and registered more than 20 maize varieties that are commercially produced and has also contributed in technically supporting small and medium local seed companies and strengthening seed systems in Uganda.

During the event, bean breeder and Program Leader, Legumes Research at NaCRRI, Dr. Stanley Nkalubo was also awarded as the most compliant service breeder in supporting commercialization efforts during the period 2021-2022. He was especially recognized for tireless efforts to generate plant varieties and ensure that there is adequate breeder seed for production of adequate foundation seed for the licensed seed companies, is selfless and commendable. Dr. Nkalubo carries over 22 years of experience in agricultural research and development.

Alongside other programs across NARO, three NaCRRI research programs were recognized as outstanding breeding program with commitment to agro-industrialization agenda in their service and responsibilities. The Root crops, Cereals and Legumes Programs were lauded for their diligence and dedication to duty that reflects great credit upon NARO.

The Legumes program was specially recognized for its contribution in bio-fortification efforts including the development of iron and zinc rich beans to address nutritional security and admirable endeavors to promote these varieties in disadvantaged and vulnerable communities. Their efforts are empowering communities to become more food and nutritionally secure.

The Root crops program was recognized for their contribution in breeding cassava and sweat potato varieties for niche markets such the brewing industry and vitamin A rich sweet potato. Their efforts are pioneering and strengthening the research-industry linkage which is pivotal for agro industrialization. They have developed varieties that are not only pests and disease resistant but also addressing hunger, nutrition, food and income security in sweet potato and cassava farming communities.

The Cereals program was recognized for their contribution in the development and release of 26 biotic stress-resilient maize varieties as well as high yielding rice varieties to address different production constraints in low and mid altitude highland areas of Uganda. These efforts have contributed significantly to the national economy and increasing agricultural exports. The bumper harvests from the high yielding varieties and promotion of maize have increasingly made the crop become a major non-traditional export cash crop particularly benefiting smallholder farmers, processors and other value chain actors.

While officiating at the event, the Minister for Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries – Hon. Frank Tumwebaze appreciated efforts of the recognized scientists in building and sustaining Uganda’s food systems. “Government is committed to supporting these scientists because they are key enablers of the knowledge economy” he said. He further promised to continue to empower NARO to ensure that it generates more climate resilient varieties and research that is current.

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