After releasing coffee varieties resistant to wilt disease, Ugandan agricultural scientists have begun developing Robusta varieties that are drought-tolerant as well.
But because Uganda lacks a biosafety law, researchers said they cannot use faster gene editing tools such as CRISPR-Cas to develop the new varieties. Instead, they anticipate the process will take about 10 years.
Uganda is one of the leading exporters of Robusta coffee in Africa. The cash crop earned the East African country US$559 million last year, according to the Uganda Coffee Development Authority.
But the plant is increasingly threatened by drought and other unpredictable weather patterns, prompting scientists to seek a solution.
“We have to continuously develop better varieties. That’s how it is,” said Betty Magambo, a researcher at the National Coffee Research Institute (NaCORI). “The environment is evolving, we have newer diseases and soils are now less fertile. So, we cannot really just sit back and relax. We have to give farmers options.”