For decades now, farmers in Uganda have been confronted with persistent problems such as pests, crop diseases, and prolonged droughts that have caused widespread crop failure and financial loss.
Pesticide usage in the fight against crop diseases has made farming less profitable, since farmers have to buy the chemicals. Yet consumption of crops sprayed with pesticides is a health risk.
On the other hand we have the burden of malnutrition due to insufficient nutrients in the foodstuffs commonly consumed in poor households. Climate change has presented new problems that have to be resolved and the government through the National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO) undertook to address the challenges by conducting research on crop plants using modern biotechnology.
It is the reason so many scientists have been trained and biotech laboratories built. Over the years, as a visit to some of the NARO intuitions will reveal, the research work has produced some good results.
We have field trial gardens of cassava variety that is resistant to cassava mosaic and cassava brown streak disease which have reduced national cassava production to nearly half. There are field trial gardens of banana resistant to Banana Bacterial Disease that is wiping out entire gardens across the banana growing regions of Uganda.
Researchers are working on banana varieties that are nematode and weevil resistant. We have banana that is rich in Vitamin A ----- bred to enhance nutrition especially in poor households. One of the strategies to fight malnutrition is bio-fortification of staple food crops through biotechnology. There is drought tolerant maize that farmers can grow during periods of rain scarcity. Only last month we had a media report of secondary school teachers being trained in biotechnology since it is now to be introduced in the school system. We also had another media report of local government leaders from Buganda region being sensitized on biotechnology advantages.
The big paradox however is that despite so much investment and interest in biotechnology Uganda has so far failed to come up with the needed law to enable its farmers to grow biotechnology crops. Do we really trust science in farming?