Lack of law delays testing of Vitamin A bananas

By Vision Reporter

Added 18th June 2014 04:32 PM

Scientists developing new banana varieties resistant to the bacterial wilt have expressed frustration over the delay by Parliament to pass the Biosafety and Biotechnology Bill.

2014 6largeimg218 jun 2014 133233617 703x422

By Francis Kagolo                 

Scientists developing new banana varieties resistant to the bacterial wilt have expressed frustration over the delay by Parliament to pass the Biosafety and Biotechnology Bill.
In conjunction with the Queensland University, Australia, the researchers at Kawanda are also engineering other genetically modified varieties that are resistant to nematodes and weevils.
Other varieties will have increased Vitamin A, zinc and iron amounts to fight malnutrition. 
However, Dr. Andrew Kiggundu, head of the biotechnology centre at Kawanda national agricultural research institute, said the varieties can neither be released to the farmers nor tested in unconfined gardens without the enabling law.
“We have to wait until the bill is passed. If it continues to delay, then we might have to do the tests in another country like Kenya where laws regulating GMOs exist,” Dr. Kiggundu told New Vision on phone.
He was reacting to a recent development that genetically modified bananas grown at Queensland university and bound for Uganda were about to undergo human trials in the United States. 
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has spent $12m (about sh30.5b) on the project intended prevent thousands of children from dying or going blind as a result of vitamin A deficiency. 
 Results from the human trials are expected in October while the university’s goal “is to release these bananas in 2020 to farmers in Uganda."
Dr. Robert Karegya, commissioner for crop inspection and regulation in the ministry of agriculture said they are aware of Kawanda’s arrangement with the Australian university. 
While the Queensland University is concentrating on increasing Vitamin A in Bogoya, researchers at Kawanda are working on matooke and yellow bananas (Ndiizi). 
Dr. Karegya said the varieties would improve food security. “It has a whole range of benefits. Varieties that are rich in vitamin A will reduce the number of people who get blind while those with iron will curb anaemia,” he said. 
The health ministry estimates that 20% of children aged 6-59 months and 19% of women of childbearing age are vitamin A deficient. 
Over 50% of the women in Uganda are anaemic, a condition where one lacks enough blood making one susceptible to infections that can lead to death. 
According to Dr. Karegya, the proposed GM varieties could avert the problem since Banana is a staple food to over 70% of Ugandans. 
“We gave Kawanda an import permit to experiment these varieties. Research will continue but the bill has to be passed into law to finally introduce the new varieties to farmers,” Karegya said. 
The National Biosafety and Biotechnology Bill 2008 is meant to guide the introduction and use of GMOs in the country. It caused mixed reactions among MPs when it was introduced in parliament last year. 
When he was still the vice chairperson Parliamentary Committee on Science and Technology, Eng. Robert Kafeero said the bill would only be passed if it has meaning to the farmers.
However, Dr. Kiggundu envisages the GM varieties to provide the magic bullet for the bacterial wilt disease that has ravaged banana crops across the country for over a decade. 
Banana genes were mixed with genes from sweet pepper to get the variety that is resistant to bacterial wilt. 
The disease has a capacity to cause 100% loss on a plantation.  
Leaves of an affected plant turn yellow and droop while the fruit gets discoloured and destroyed. The disease can spread quickly through a plantation and from farm to farm.
Following its outbreak in 2001, farmers in parts of central and western Uganda have been cutting down their plantations to contain the disease, hence losing their source of income and food. 
Uganda is one of the countries that are quickly adopting biotechnology with field trials for other GMO crops including maize, cotton, potatoes and rice currently ongoing at Namulonge and Kawanda Research Institutes.
Others in Africa include Kenya, South Africa, Burkina Faso and Egypt as other African countries that have embraced GMOs.   
Kiggundu allayed fears of the products having ill-health consequences. 'For the first time in our civilisation, plant varieties will go through a rigorous approval process for safety. 
If the law is passed, crops will first be tested against toxicity and allergy issues. This has never been done before in our society," he stated. 
"If any GMO crop can pass these tests then be sure that it is safe. It is better to trust food that goes through strict testing regulations than one that is not tested."


Lack of law delays testing of Vitamin A bananas – scientists

More From The Author

Information Currently Unavailable