Wednesday June 1 2016

How 10th Parliament can prove commitment to agriculture

By Michael J. Ssali

Nearly every Member of the 10th Parliament has said a thing or two about uplifting the living standards of their constituents by fighting poverty.

Since most voters are farmers, the politicians have promised to empower them to increase crop and livestock production. So, what will they do differently in this parliament? Will they carry on with the already familiar donation of seeds/seedlings to the poor farmers without paying due attention to the disappearance of our natural forests and the destruction of wetlands? Will they continue with eloquent speeches about farmers’ need for hard work without addressing the bigger issues of tremendous economic losses and food insecurity resulting from pests, diseases, and drought that in fact undermine agricultural production?

According to Dr Jerome Kubiriba, Banana Programme Leader, National Agricultural Research Laboratories (NARL), Uganda is set to lose $953 million worth of bananas at present value due to the Banana Bacterial Wilt (BBW), which has no chemical treatment.

At 240kg per capita, Uganda has the highest annual consumption of bananas globally.
Seventy-five per cent of farmers in Uganda grow bananas for food and income security. Yet all cultivated banana varieties are susceptible to the deadly BBW, which is rapidly wiping out the crop.

Our researchers under National Agricultural Research Organisation (Naro) have developed cooking bananas that are resistant to BBW and which could be passed on to farmers to grow, multiply and consume.

Other crops under improvement through genetic modification (GM) science by Naro are cassava, maize, sweet potato, rice, groundnuts, and millet. They face extinction due to incurable diseases, climate change, and other factors.
Considerable success has been registered. Some of the GM science-improved crops like cassava could be passed to the farmers to plant.

But none of the crops will be given to farmers because Parliament has not passed the National Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill. Yet recent research has shown that GM crops under trial in Uganda will increase productivity of key staple crops by 25-60 per cent. Our MPs should therefore begin with passing the Bill to prove their commitment to agriculture.