Agricultural scientists from various African countries meeting in Kampala this week, spoke in unison calling on the African population to embrace use of Genetically Modified Organisms and varieties commonly known as GMOs as a way to address challenges faced in cropping systems.
GMOs are Organisms that have had their DNA modified through genetic engineering.
Speaking at the Makerere University Regional Centre for Crop Improvement (MaRCCI) – Corteva plant science symposium 2019, the first of it’s kind in Sub Saharan Africa, Dr. Ismail Rabbi a Kenyan Agriculturalist and breeder at International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) said that GMOs are more resistant to diseases and pests than traditional varieties.
“For example the banana wilt disease, there is no natural resistance in the bananas that are being cultivated all over the world. So biotech people had to resort to bringing the transgene from capsicum and putting it in the bananas to resist banana wilt disease,” he said
Many Ugandan farmers and policy makers didn’t embrace GMOs on grounds that they cannot be replanted which is contrary to traditional crops but according Dr Bonny Oloka, the research officer Plant Breeding and Genetics at National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO), GMOs can be replanted after harvest unlike hybrids which are not replanted.
“GMOs can be replanted. What you cannot replant are hybrids because they are gotten from two different parents from diverse genetic backgrounds. So when you replant seeds from that hybrid it goes back to the genetics of the parents which are poor performers. So what you normally need to have are seeds that are got from direct crosses,” said Oloka
On claims that GMOs being the cause of nodding diseases, cancers and other illnesses, Oloka noted that GMOs are rarely consumed in Uganda and added that countries like United States of America (USA) where they are heavily consumed have not experienced the above mentioned illnesses.
He called on Ugandan farmers to adopt the varieties.
“GMO crop is the easiest crop to grow and manage. You don’t have to spray it. Just plant and come back to harvest”
Oloka further said that NARO has a centre known as Uganda Biosciences Information Center (UBIC) that engages youths and give them information about Agricultural Biotechnology so that the technology is embraced by young people.
“NARO also has a Biosafety section of people who go to schools to talk to students and other youths about Biotechnology. The section also involves Biosafety essay competitions for students who compete to write about Biotechnology and are given a token of appreciation,” he added
Prof. Sani Kayode, a Nigerian Agro scientist said that GMOs are safe and people should not worry about them.
“If you eat a GMO crop and tastes differently just reject. That’s what makes transgenic safe,” he said
Kayode added that the recently introduced big bananas commonly known as “kawanda” which many people said are not sweet and don’t taste like real banana are not GMOs.
Dr. Charles Mugoya chairperson National Biosafety committee of Uganda said that Uganda is reluctant to embrace GMOs and added that neighboring countries that grow these varieties import them into the country and sell them to citizens.
“In supermarkets there are GMOs and we consume them,” he added.
The unprecedented symposium in Sub Saharan Africa was attended by Agricultural scientists, researchers, students and representatives of various Universities from across the African continent.