Published: Saturday 30 November 1996

A long term plan for the protection of crops against civil unrest and drought is being drawn up by 12 African countries. Stocks of seeds will be stored by each country to fill up those of a neighbour struck by disaster. The directors of agricultural research of these nations have formed a group called the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in east and central Africa.

The scheme takes off from the successful Seeds of Hope programme, which helped Rwanda restart its agriculture after the civil war of 1994 and saved many of its unique varieties of crop plants from extinction. Ten of the countries -- Burundi, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda form the Greater Horn of Africa. Between 1979 and 1994, the region has never been entirely free of either drought or civil unrest. The other two countries are Zaire and Madagascar.

The plan envisages protection of indigenous varieties of crops, some of which have adapted to highly specific conditions and have developed a degree of resistance to local pests and diseases.

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