Researchers say they have cassava varieties that are resistant to cassava brown streak using GMO technology, but are still in confined field trials because of lack of the Bio-safety Bill.
PIC: A farmer uprooting cassava. Researchers say they have cassava varieties that can be resistant to both Cassava Brown Streak and Cassava Mosaic. (Credit: Noah Jagwe)
Cassava farmers across the country have continued to grapple with brown streak and Cassava Mosaic diseases which has affected the crop and reduced production. This forced researchers to come up with different approaches to address the situation.
Henry Wagaba, a researcher in cassava, attached to the Molecular Laboratory National Crops Resources Research Institute (NACRRI), Namulonge said since the existing cassava varieties cannot fully resist the diseases, the solution is GMO approach.
Wagaba noted the hindrance is lack of a guiding principle in form of law to guide and regulate the research and application of the GMO products.
"It is an important law to us researchers. When the law is passed it will give use headway, "Wagaba added.
Last year, President Museveni declined to sign the National Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill, 2012 into law. The Bill seeks to provide a regulatory framework that facilitates the safe development and application of biotechnology, research, development and release of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).
"Our research would be useless. Without that law certainly, no farmer will benefit. There is no way the products would get to the farmers," Wagaba noted, saying they have varieties that are resistant to cassava brown streak using GMO technology, but still in confined field trials," he added.
The outcomes on GMO cassava, though still under confinement, are positive and would do well for the farmers, according to Wagaba.
Therefore, Wagaba asked the authorities to expedite the passing of the Bill to enable the research be visible and benefit the farmers. He said the most sustainable way to deal with pests and diseases is to have varieties that are resistant.
According to him, once farmers poorly make wrong selection of planting materials could easily get a total loss.
"If you not carefully select disease tolerant varieties and you grow a susceptible cultivar, a farmer will get zero output," he said.
What happens to cassava affected by Cassava Mosaic?
In most cases when cassava plants get affected by Cassava Mosaic, it doesn't bear tubers which cause losses to the farmers. The roots that store food are affected because the leaves that capture sunlight to enable the plants manufacture its own food are damaged.
The diseases are mostly spread by white flies. The research underway on cassava at Namulonge is to ensure that a farmer can get cassava seedlings that are resistant to both Cassava Brown Streak and Cassava Mosaic.
Cassava Brown Streak
Wagaba noted that the biggest devastation in cassava is usually caused by Cassava Brown streak. This disease can cause a farmer get a total loss. He cautions farmers to always access those materials that have certified by Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries.
Clet Masiga Wandui, the director bioscience innovations at the Tropical Institute of Development Innovations, Mukono, said using traditional methods, scientists can also still get resistant varieties though they have limitations too.
"The available sources are not stable. We have new tools (genetic engineering and gene editing) which are safe. These methods have been used elsewhere," Masiga said.
He argued that scientists can play around with the existing varieties to get a better one without necessarily going into the wild, looking for different varieties.
Genetic engineering refers to the deliberate modification of the characteristics of an organism by manipulating its genetic material.