Farmer's Diary: Biotechnology and the future of farming
Posted Wednesday, February 27 2013 at 00:00
As we could all have read in the Seeds of Gold last week, the Bill on biotechnology and biosafety is now before Parliament. For years we have been waiting for a law governing the use of biotechnology products, which are bound to become common as our farmers continue to embrace modern technologies in the wake of new challenges facing agriculture such as emerging crop diseases, climate change, and a rapidly growing population that has to be fed, among others.
For the last 10 years or so, Uganda has invested in training scientists, putting up laboratories and funding research programmes to curb crop diseases and develop breeds that can withstand the challenges so as to increase agricultural production.
We are challenged to increase food yields yet our crops are attacked by new diseases, the climate is hostile, and the soils are getting degraded.
A document from the Uganda Biotechnology and Biosafety Consortium says: “Using biotechnology, it is possible to introduce one or a few genes that make the plant to grow better, defend itself better against pests and diseases, make new useful compounds in its seeds and storage organs and become better adapted to environmental stresses such as drought, cold and high temperatures.”
Biotechnology, then, could be our best hope for overcoming most of the problems threatening agriculture today.
When genes are transferred from one crop to another to improve its characteristics the process is described as genetic engineering (GE) or genetic modification (GM), according to the UBBC document.
GM technology is known to have transformed agricultural production in many countries across the world and Uganda wants to take advantage of it too.
However, our parliamentarians must debate the Bill with due diligence because, while GM technology may improve agricultural production, it is relatively new and it is at the centre of controversy with many individuals, organisations and countries still opposed to it.
We want it well regulated and responsibly applied. An Ethiopian scientist, Tewolde Gebre Egziabher, has said, “If you make a mistake with GM technology, you could ruin your genetic base. We are tampering with the foundations of life. We must wait long enough—or face the consequences.”