UCU researchers seek to multiply bamboo production for more benefits


By Pauline Luba
Micropropagation refers to the growing of plants in closed vessels that contain culture media with nutrients and growth regulators. Since the plants are grown in glass, they are described as in vitro, as opposed to in vivo plants that are grown in soil.  

Knowing the multiple benefits and uses of the bamboo plant, Winnie Namutosi, a Uganda Christian University (UCU) alum and lecturer, and her co-researchers are currently in the laboratory in a bid to micropropagate this member of the grass family, using a growth medium that has nutrients and hormones.

To produce the micro propagated plants, clear protocols are needed. These protocols are not yet known, and that is what Namutosi and her colleague researchers— Prof. William Kisaalita, Joel Karama and Joseph Galiwango  — are attempting to develop. Namutosi also has worked with UCU academics and researchers Bulyaba Rosemary, Nakanwangi Mildred Julian, Buteme Ruth, Sseremba Godfrey and Kizito Elizabeth Balyejusa to decipher the reproductive barriers that hinder improvement of African eggplants. The study findings were published in Euphytica under the title “Compatibility Barriers affecting Crossability of Solanum aethiopicum and its relatives” 

Specimens of bamboo multiplication in the laboratory

It is no surprise that Namutosi is part of the group that is developing the bamboo tissue culture protocols. She comes from Sironko district in eastern Uganda, where smoked bamboo shoots are one of the staple foods. Locally known as malewa, the staple was originally served as a complete meal, but was later transformed into sauce, prepared with simsim paste or peanut butter. 

Bamboo shoots, which are eaten like vegetables, are a source of protein, carbohydrates, minerals, and vitamins E and C. It also can be burned for fuel, taking pressure off dwindling forest reserves of eucalyptus and other natural resources. 

But Namutosi is looking beyond just the malewa that bamboo provides. For her master’s research, she focused on the study of improving crops (African eggplants). It was then that she realized how charcoal is a major source of fuel in many households in Uganda. However, it is that great need for charcoal that has conspired with other factors to lead to deforestation in the country.

Namutosi believes that the bamboo plant can help to reduce carbon emissions to the atmosphere, hence mitigating the effects of climatic change.
Namutosi believes that the bamboo plant can help to reduce carbon emissions to the atmosphere, hence mitigating the effects of climatic change.

“When you look at the environment, it needs to be conserved,” said Namutosi, who has experience in plant breeding and agricultural research.

The wood asset in Uganda reduced by 45 per cent between 1990 and 2015, from 355.5 million to 197.1 million tons. According to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics, after an initial 4 per cent increase in wood biomass between 1990 and 2000, the national stock suffered a significant reduction of 42.5 percent between 2000 and 2005. Despite a modest 3 percent recovery between 2005 and 2010, the aggregate stock fell by another 9 percent between 2010 and 2015.

Uganda’s total forest land area was 4.93 million hectares (12.2 million acres) in 1990, which decreased by 60 percent to 1.95 million hectares (4.8 million acres) by 2015, according to the Ugandan government statistics. However, by 2023, the forest cover had shown a reversal in the trajectory, improving by four percentage points. 

Namutosi and colleagues are now exploring possibilities of large-scale production of bamboo so it can serve the high demand for wood from charcoal burners. Bamboo is a fast-growing plant and easily adapts to many weather conditions. A hectare (2.47 acres) of a bamboo plantation is said to absorb more than 60 tons of carbon dioxide per annum, which is 30 percent more than the case with other plants. Bamboo is said to release more oxygen to the atmosphere than other plants. As such, Namutosi believes that the plant will help to reduce carbon emissions to the atmosphere, hence mitigating the effects of climatic change.

The second born of eight siblings, Namutosi is a daughter of farmer parents — Patrick and Olivia Nabitu. She attended Mahempe Primary School in Sironko district and Bugisu High School in Mbale for both O’level and A’level. In 2015, she joined UCU, where she obtained a Bachelor of Agricultural Science and Entrepreneurship. After doing research on animals for her undergraduate, Namutosi opted to focus on crop improvement for her master’s research, graduating with a Master of Science in Agriculture. She is currently an assistant lecturer and a researcher at UCU.