My attention has been drawn to an article I recently read in the digital Genetic Literacy Project newsletter authored by award winning Ugandan journalist, Christopher Bendana. It quoted the economist Enoch Kikulwe of Biodiversity International saying Ugandan banana farmers face heavy financial losses if they do not quickly adopt genetically modified banana varieties that can resist the devastating banana bacterial wilt disease (BBWD).
Kikulwe is said to have made the warning while sharing his findings in a paper titled “The economic potential of transgenic crops in Uganda: the case of bananas and cassava” during the recent World Science Day at Makerere University in Kampala. He said, “Farmers growing one hectare of GM bananas would likely earn an extra $300 per year, while those who do not adopt the improved varieties will lose some $460 annually to the BBWD.”
Dr Jerome Kubiriba, head of the Banana Research Project under National Agricultural Research Organisation (Naro) has revealed that Uganda’s annual $550m worth production of bananas has reduced to $350m due to BBWD. This sounds believable when we look at figures from Uganda Bureau of Statistics which indicate that at the time of the Uganda Agricultural Census in 2008/2009 national banana (food type) production had reduced to a mere four million metric tonnes down from 7.9 million metric tonnes in 1995.
Banana is the most consumed food crop in Uganda and its cost price has steadily risen over the years mostly due to the fact that its production is declining while at the same time Uganda’s population has grown from 6.8 million at independence in 1962 to the present 42.7 million. Economist Kikulwe therefore has a point. The government which stands for promoting food security for a population whose fertility rate of 5.4 per cent, one of the top three highest in the world must act quickly.
Naro has in the recent years developed BBWD resistant banana varieties which the farmers can grow if the government puts in place a regulatory law to govern GM technology. Parliament has twice passed the law but it is taking too long to get the President’s signature of approval.