CROP PRODUCTION AND MOLECULAR TECHNOLOGIES DIVISION

Mrs R. Mavuka

Head of Division

MISSION

To develop and disseminate effective, efficient and environmentally sustainable tobacco best
management practices.

PURPOSE

1. To provide information on best management practices for tobacco production
2. To increase grower profits.

ACTIVITIES

1. Crop nutrition research
2. Soil health studies
3. Weed research
4. Seed enhancements
5. Crop rotations
6. Crop management research and advisory service
7. Lime and fertiliser recommendations
8. Pesticides Approval Scheme Service
9. Quality assurance for Gromix, Floatfert and commercial seedling production
10. Crop area/yield assessments and GIS service
11. Tillage systems and Conservation agriculture
12. Precision agriculture
13. Crop curing and handling
14. Irrigation systems

CURRENT RESEARCH THRUST

1. Developing sustainable crop production practices that reduce soil degradation and enhance soil health (WHO/FCTC: Article 18)

Research in this area is mostly aimed at addressing challenges of accelerating soil degradation caused by continuous tobacco production. Work is underway to develop and avail new and more adapted cropping systems that increase production, whilst conserving the soil as a natural resource base.

This includes;
1.1 Evaluation of alternative rotation crops beneficial to the soil. These crops have the advantage that they can be grown as commercial cash crops or fodder crops.
1.2 Evaluation of a biofertilisers: These fertilisers assist in optimizing the decomposition process of animal and plant residues and help build organic matter in the soil. Efficacy tests will be carried out on balanced formulae of naturally occurring micro-organisms that promote plant growth in poor soils.
1.3 Turning the tobacco plant into a legume with N-Fix technology that enables all crop species to fix nitrogen directly from air. Patented technology based on a beneficial bacteria Gluconacetobacter diazotrophicus (Gd) for coating plant seeds or roots in order to create a symbiotic relationship within the
plant enabling it to substitute the nitrogen it normally takes up from the soil with atmospheric nitrogen thus reducing dependency on nitrogenous fertilisers.

2. Seed Enhancement Work

Seed quality is vital to sustainable crop production and therefore, work is being undertaken towards seed enhancement. This work is aimed at overcoming germination constraints and enabling fast and uniform germination, improved crop stands, earlier crop take off and ultimately better yields.

This is done
through;
2.1 Developing and availing seed priming protocols for use by the Seed Production Division,
2.2 Evaluation of commercial products that are touted to improve germination rates and seedling vigour
through triggering the earlier start of metabolic activities of hydrolytic enzymes and resource mobilization will be evaluated

3.Establishing the extend of parasitic weed infestations in tobacco production and
developing management strategies

3.1 Survey to establish the extent of Striga spp infestations in tobacco production
3.2 Evaluation of trap crops such as Sesame and Desmodium for management of the
weed.

4. Fertiliser and Pesticide evaluations (PASS)
5. Evaluation of economically viable alternative crops to tobacco

Evaluation of alternative crops to tobacco: With the WHO/FCTC (Ref: Article 17) gathering momentum, this season the division will explore the agronomic aspects of Industrial hemp (Cannabis sativa and Chia (Salvina hispanicum) production that could be grown as alternatives to tobacco in Zimbabwe.

AGRONOMY SKILLS GROUP

We conduct research and disseminate information on best management practices for tobaccoproduction through the  following activities:
• Crop management, curing and handling advisory service.
• Providing quality assurance commercial seedling production, through optimization of soilless
media (float tray system), fertilization programs and cultural practices.
• Crop area/yield assessments through remote sensing.
• Research on efficient tillage systems.
• Pesticides Approval Scheme Service through testing herbicides, suckercides and growth
regulators.
• Irrigation systems research.
• Research in conservation agriculture.

PHYSIOLOGY SKILLS GROUP

The objective is to enhance tobacco productivity through the understanding of plant physiological functions and how best to manipulate them to attain optimum yields and quality. Activities include research and development of new technologies to improve plant growth from seedling, vegetative to reproductive stages. The use of plant hormones and growth regulators is also explored.

Activities

• Research on enhancing pollen storage and viability.
• Developing pollen productivity strategies.
• Seed physiology research to maximise seed germination and seedling recovery in the float system.
• Exploring factors that influence seedling growth and survival, e.g. light, temperature etc.
• Use of plant hormones and growth regulators in improving tobacco yield and quality.
• Study of interactions between tobacco and the environment (seasonal effects on yield and quality). Recently, we have embarked on research projects to support our Seed Production Division to optimize seed yields and quality in an effort to ensure adequate seed supply to growers.

SOIL CHEMISTRY SKILLS GROUP

We conduct research in soil fertility and water quality management. The group is tasked with identifying edaphic conditions favourable to plant growth, nutrient application methods and soil conservation techniques through comprehensive research and also providing advisory services.

Research

• Crop rotation trials are conducted to develop techniques to maintain soil fertility, conserve moisture and manage pests and diseases. Current studies are focusing on evaluation of alternative rotation crops beneficial to the soil e.g Chia (Salvina hispanicum), Silverleaf desmodium (Desmodium uncinatum) and Velvet bean (Mucuna pruriens).
• Nutritional requirements for seedling production
• Fertiliser requirements for new varieties to attain optimum yields and quality
• Evaluation of farmer practices e.g. gypusm application in tobacco production
• Contract research on fertilisers e.g. foliar products and soil fertility ameliorants, such as soil conditioners, and new fertiliser formulations to ensure that the efficacy data is consistent with the registered standard.

Advisory Notes

1. A soil or water test report is not particularly useful unless it can be interpreted in conjunction with a whole range of factors. We therefore maintain excellency in interpretation of soil test results and subsequent site-specific lime and fertiliser recommendations for tobacco and other agricultural crops. Furthermore, crop nutritionmanagement advisory is offered. Recommendations are also provided for suitability of water for use in tobacco irrigation.

2. For growers who have adopted the tobacco float seedling production system, we offer efficient recommendations on Gromix optimum usage. Our laboratory has the capacity for solution analysis (float water) and media, which provides information on several parameters
important to uniform seedling growth such as pH and EC (soluble salts). In addition, we give recommendations on corrective action for pH and fertilization for the production of ideal seedlings.

HORTICULTURE SECTION

The Horticulture skills group carries out research on improvement and production technology of different vegetable seedlings. We strive to bring out appropriate production technologies which will minimize the cost and maximize vegetable seedling production and profitability. The skills
group produces superior, uniform horticultural seedlings for sale at a reasonable cost.

For more
information, contact Kutsaga Research Station’s Business Development and Marketing division on VOIP: 086 88002604 or Email: tobres@kutsaga.co.zw or visit Kutsaga Research Station.

PLANT TISSUE CULTURE SECTION

a. Irish potatoes growing in vitro b. Plant Tissue Culture Growth Room c. German II sweet potato variety from tissue culture actively growing in the greenhouse d. Brondal sweet potato variety from tissue culture actively growing in the green house

We offer Micro propagated or tissue culture produced plants characterized by uniformity, high yielding capacity and free of diseases. Plant tissue culture is a collection of techniques used to maintain or grow plant cells, tissues or organs under sterile conditions on a nutrient culture medium of known composition. The technology has revolutionized agriculture since the 70’s by reinvigorating growth of vegetatively propagated plants in abundance. The Tobacco Research
Board is equipped with a state of the art Plant Tissue Culture facility and the largest in the country in terms capacity, turnover and skilled tissue culture processors. The laboratory offers:
Irish Potato (Mini tubers)
We offer two (2) varieties from certified planting material:
• Diamond
• Hermes
Sweet Potato (Vines)
Sweet potato cultivated traditionally suffers from various viral, fungal and bacterial diseases.
We supply certified disease -free planting material of sweet potato:
• German II
• Beauregard
• Brondal
• Chingovha
Other client-based plant types on offer are:
• Cassava
• Bananas
• Bamboo
• Blueberries
• Strawberries
• Stevia, and other plants on request.
Tissue cultured plantlets have the following advantages;
1. Rapid establishment of numbers
2. Maintanance of pathogen free planting material
3. Production of a uniform crop that offers uniform yields.
4. Clonal propagation, resulting in genetically identical copies of a cultivar, true to type.13
5. Enhanced axillary branching of in vitro-derived plants (resulting in fuller foliage).
6. Year-round production.
7. Hastening of a new crop introduction.
NB: Planting material is available on order.

MOLECULAR TECHNOLOGIES SECTION

The Molecular technology section provides indispensable and specialized Molecular Biology procedures for the development of tools for research and diagnostics applications to accelerate the proper identification and characterization of novel pathogens. The laboratory is an accredited centre for Molecular Biology in the country and it houses advanced cutting edge equipment, highly experienced scientists and specialized procedures complying with the strict guidelines of ISO/IEC: 17025:2017 standards, thus ensuring internationally recognised accurate results.

Why us?

Services Specification

ServiceSample requirementsTurn Around Time
GMO Screening5 - 10 g fresh or Dried72 hrs
Viral Indexing10 g of fresh sample24hrs
PCR Based Viral and10 g of fresh sample72hrs
DNA fingerprinting5 - 10 g fresh or Dried96hrs
Targeted SangerSample. Clearly labeled7 working days
Sequence5 - 10 g fresh or Dried

GMO Screening

The rampant increase in the cultivation of genetically modified (GM) crops has aggravated the need to setup control
measures of the food, feed and seed made available to the public. In line with that, the Molecular Biology laboratory has
at its pith the GMO testing service facility available to importers, exporters and local producers of crops and related
products in order to facilitate international trade. The comprehensive GMO testing and certification service is an
accredited procedure that utilizes the standard polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technology to amplify and directly
analyse DNA. Through our qualitative testing method, the presence and absence of genetic modification can be directly
noted using a set of DNA primers. In addition we also utilize the quantitative PCR approach where the exact levels of
GMO can be quantified.

Viral Indexing

In conjunction with the Kutsaga Plant Clinic, the laboratory also offers nucleic acid based viral and bacterial disease
diagnosis affecting agricultural products. The procedures utilizes the nature of the pathogen to accommodate and
invade the host plant`s genetic material resulting in multiple copies of the pathogen`s DNA. Thus using standardized
procedures we can extract the pathogen`s DNA/RNA and confirm the disease status of the plant. The service comes as a
free service to registered tobacco growers and is extended to non-tobacco growers like potato, tomato and sweet
potatoes at a manageable cost. Regardless of the cost, the merits of these techniques in disease diagnosis lies in their
accuracy, reproducibility and ability to detect the pathogen at any stage of the plant`s reproduction stage before the
symptoms emerge in contrast to the conventional methods of disease diagnosis.

PCR Based Viral and Bacterial tests

The laboratory also tests for some specific viruses and bacteria in specific plants which include PVY, TMV, PLRV in
solanaceous plants, Avocado Sunblotch Virus in avocado, Erwinia carotovora, Dickeya Solani, Ralstonia solani in
potatoes among others.

Targeted Sanger Sequence

The laboratory also houses a state of the art SeqStudio Genetic Analyzer (ThermoFisher Scientific), that is able to
perform fluorescence-based Sanger sequencing and fragment analysis all under the same plate. DNA sequencing is a
process that encompasses methods and techniques that can unravel the arrangement of the DNA bases. It requires a
known primer, normal deoxynucleosidetriphosphates (dNTPs) and modified di-deoxynucleotidetriphopates (ddNTPs)
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and a DNA polymerase for obtaining >500 bp long sequence This information is useful for researchers in understanding
the type of genetic information carried in the DNA, which then can help detect genetic alterations that may be
associated with effecting diseases. The vast numbers of crop diseases that have emerged of late are perceived to be new
strains or recombinant strains from the well known strains, however through sequencing we are able to characterize
these novel strains and thus offer accurate diagnostic information to farmers and plant breeders alike. The SeqStudio is
the first of its own kind in Zimbabwe, and presents a plethora of opportunities for researchers, universities, crop
diagnostic laboratories and medical laboratories for genetic analysis.

DNA Fingerprinting

Furthermore the laboratory also provides a service termed DNA fingerprinting for variety registration and variety
disputes. DNA fingerprinting is an unambiguous DNA identifying technique that utilizes the uniqueness of DNA
sequences in each individual. Specific DNA sequences in plants can be mapped to produce a DNA profile/DNA
fingerprint thus can be used for identification of marker traits, mutations, genetic diversity and variation. Although
about 99.9% of the genetic material is similar, however 0.1% of DNA is unique and can be utilized for DNA fingerprinting.
The DNA fingerprinting service is readily available for tobacco identification in suspected theft cases. The DNA of the
client and the accused are matched to a known DNA profile of the same variety and the identical sequences are noted.
In addition the service is also available to plant breeders due to the Trade-related Intellectual property rights (TRIPs) that
enforce breeders to identify the ownership of their genotypes unequivocally.

Other Services
Plasmid DNA extraction
Design of PCR and RT-PCR primers
Advising on specific Molecular Biology related projects

Training
In the quest to transfer technology and research expertise to future generations, the Molecular Biology laboratory also
engages in training of molecular techniques to stakeholders in national research and extension services so as to produce
skilled and competent scientists.