GM sweet banana on trial in Uganda this month (16/5/2007)

NOTE: 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 hype GM bananas.

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

As we've noted before, The "only GM can save the banana" hype get expertly debunked each time it arises:


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 with care.


Uganda: Researchers Put GM Sweet Banana on Trial in Uganda This Month
Esther Nakkazi
The East African (Nairobi), 15 May 2007

Uganda will this week import genetically modified sweet banana plants from Belgium for field trials. The transgenic plants - plants that possess a gene or genes that have been transferred from a different species - are resistant to pests and disease.

The GM sweet banana locally known as "bogoya" and mostly eaten as a dessert, will from this month, be tested at the Kawanda Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) for resistance to the notorious bacterial wilt and Black Sigatoka fungal disease.

Field results are expected within 5-10 years.

The new variety is expected to save up to 50 per cent of yields that are destroyed by pests and diseases thus increasing production of the country's staple crop, which is also popular in Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

According to Geoffrey Arinaitwe, the Ugandan scientist who was involved in the development variety, if the field trials succeed, Uganda will be the provider of the technology in Africa.

Mr Arinaitwe said after the field trials in Kawanda, the best transgenic line will be selected and multiplied. Later, the technology will be transferred to highland bananas locally known as matooke and to the plantain variety.

The banana wilt is the number one fungal disease that affects banana production world wide. The wilt wipes out at least 90 per cent of the fruit on the trees it affects. An infected tree is poisonous to both humans and animals.

Scientists say the commonest way in which the disease is spread is through pollination by bees that pick pollen from the female of the plant and transport it to male banana plants for cross-pollination.

However, with the GM banana variety, scientists say there is no risk of contamination of other plants and to the environment in case of a disease breakout.

"The gene within the GM plant cannot be transferred to another plant because the banana will not produce fertile pollen. So there is no risk of gene contamination for other plants and the environment," said Mr Arinaitwe.

Bananas are cultivated in 80 tropical countries, representing the fourth most consumed food crop in the world. Efforts in the region include, a virus resistant sweet potato currently undergoing field trials in Kenya, while insect-resistant maize and cotton will be tested soon.

Pest and disease-resistant GM crops have significantly reduced the use of chemical pesticides. The most important potential benefit of GM crops will be their contribution to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of reducing poverty and hunger by 50 per cent in 2015.

Prof Jocelyn Webster, executive director of AfricaBio a research organisation said cultivation of GM crops is one way of increasing food security in Africa. "These crops are not the final solution, but a vital tool in the fight against food insecurity in Africa and to make the continent less dependant on food aid," she said.

The Uganda National Council for Science and Technology has already provided a permit for the importation of the

Go to a Print friendly Page

Email this Article to a Friend

Back to the Archive