Uganda to introduce GM bananas (21/2/2007)

Geoffrey Arinatwe, the Ugandan scientist who developed the GM banana featured in the article below, is part of a group of scientists based in Belgium who've been responsible for a whole series of attempts to massively hype GM bananas.

Arinatwe is quoted for example in a San Francisco Chronicle article, "Without a genetic fix, the banana may be History".

These "only GM can save the banana" stories get expertly debunked each time they arise. GM is not the only way to conserve bananas or make them disease resistant quite apart from the fact that there's no evidence consumers want them see:


Bananas 'can't disappear by 2013'

Bananas about GM

'Yes, we don't want GM bananas'

In addition, James Smith, an African Studies specialist at the University of Edinburgh has produced telling evidence as to how biotech banana projects can be hyped to a truly spectacular degree.

Part of the pattern that can occur involves biotech being presented as an almost miraculous solution to what is presented as a major and otherwise intractable problem. Smith notes that this type of crisis "narrative prevails amongst a whole range of literature supporting biotechnological development in Africa."

The project in neighbouring Kenya that Smith examined made misleading claims about not only the level of success delivered by biotech bananas but also the extent to which bananas contributed to food security, nutritional intake, and household incomes.

In view of that, it would only be wise to treat the claims made in this latest report with care until it's clear what kind of data is available to support them.

Uganda to introduce genetically engineered banana
Esther Nakkazi, Special Correspondent Nairobi
The East African (Nairobi, Kenya)

Uganda could soon introduce genetically modified bananas after a successful genetically engineered sweet banana variety proved resistant to pests and diseases.

The technology will improve the quality of banana, an important food and cash crop whose production has declined due to diseases, especially the banana wilt disease.

Genetically engineered bananas will also contribute to food security and improve household incomes. Almost 24.5 per cent of Ugandan household's income is contributed by bananas. Some 70 per cent of farmers grow them as a staple food as well as for brewing local liquor.

Scientists estimate that if the technology is applied to other varieties, the country could save up to $8 billion it is said to have earmarked in the next five years for fighting the banana bacterial wilt disease.

The disease is currently ravaging the country and spreading to Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Tanzania.

The genetically engineered variety was developed by Geoffrey Arinaitwe, a Ugandan scientist based in Belgium who has now applied to the Uganda National Council for Science and Technology (UNCST) for a permit to import it to Uganda.

The Council has already cleared it for field testing after importation from Belgium.

"This innovation will pave the way for research on other varieties to make them resistant to diseases", said Arthur Makara, the biosafety desk officer at the Council, the country's leading institution for science, technology and innovation development.

The tested banana type will be brought to the Kawanda Research Institute (Kari), which has just completed construction of a greenhouse to field test bananas for resistance to bacterial wilt and black sigatoka fungal disease, said Andrew Kiggundu, a plant biotechnologist at Kari.

The bacterial wilt is highly destructive, wiping out at least 90 per cent of the fruit on the trees it affects. When it affects a tree, it becomes poisonous to both humans and animals.

Scientists say the commonest way the disease spreads is through bees, which pick up pollen from one banana and transport it to another.

Mr Kiggundu said more crops have been earmarked for testing before the end of this year at Namulonge Research Institute and the National Agricultural Research Organisation (Naro).

Other crops that are slated for field testing at Kari are genetically modified cassava, which is resistant to the mosaic virus, sweet potatoes rich in Vitamin A content and BT cotton.

"The varieties we have developed have increased resistance to pests, are nutritive and fast growing," said Mr Kiggundu.

But scientists have warned that although the gen

Go to a Print friendly Page

Email this Article to a Friend

Back to the Archive