Mistrust of science will cripple culture

Saturday April 03 2021

Author, Michael J Ssali. PHOTO/FILE.

By Michael J Ssali

Our long delay to take advantage of technologies aimed at improvements proven to overcome farming challenges such as drought stress, pest and disease epidemics, and malnutrition, could be the major drawback crippling the progress towards national economic development. 

Uganda is merely watching as other countries embrace technologies such as biotechnology that are transforming agriculture and earning them huge economic benefits.
Our government through the National Agricultural Research Organisation (Naro) is conducting research aimed at overcoming pests and diseases that are wiping out crops such as banana, cassava, sweet potato, Irish potato among others. 

Naro is also doing research on some crops to overcome drought stress and malnutrition through biotechnology.  Our cotton production lags behind due to pests that have been overcome in other countries including neighbouring Kenya which is already growing Bt cotton. Naro has achieved some success and has come up with crop varieties that are either tolerant or resistant to such challenges as drought stress and disease.  Yet Ugandan farmers cannot access the crop varieties for planting because the government is hesitant to pass the Biotechnology and Bio-safety Bill 2012 which was formulated to put into operation the National Biotechnology and Bio-safety Policy 2008.  

One of the technologies among many other modern biotechnology tools is Genetic Modification (GM) and it has been internationally agreed under the Cartagena Protocol that countries must have legal mechanisms to regulate all GM organisms and activities. For close to ten years now,

Uganda is still debating the Bill as the farmers suffer losses caused by pests and diseases and draught stress. Malnutrition which is a major underlying factor for the country’s huge health burden continues to rise yet  scientists under Naro have got increased pro-Vitamin A bananas which are also said to be resistant to the dreaded Banana Bacterial Disease.  Ironically our universities are training young people in biotechnology and the government continues to fund Naro’s GM research activities without taking advantage of the research findings.

Meanwhile other countries such as India, Sudan, Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, South Africa, Brazil, Argentina, Canada and USA, and a whole range of others are growing biotech crops and reaping benefits.