MPs visit farmers ahead of debate on biotechnology and biosafety Bill

As the Parliament prepares to debate the National Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill, there is controversy about the use of genetic modification (GM) technology in agricultural production.

On March 23, a team of parliamentarians led by Andrew Allen (MP Bugabula South) visited farmers in Masaka District who had lost their banana plantations to Banana Bacterial Wilt (BBW).

This was to get a picture of the devastation caused by the disease ahead of the debate on the biotechnology and biosafety Bill.

Personal experiences
The team, included Arthur Makara, executive director, Science Foundation for Livelihood and Development (Scifode), visited banana farms that had now turned to other crops due to effects of BBW.

One of these farmers was Ms Misusera Mwanje, a resident of Nabinene Village in Kabonera Sub-county. She suffered heavy losses when her four-acre banana plantation was hit by the bacterial wilt.

The farm, according to her neighbours, is a shadow of its former glory. There were withering banana plants scattered and were almost entirely replaced by cassava. The latter is now the family’s subsistence food.
However, nearly half of the cassava showed symptoms of the cassava mosaic and brown streak diseases, which also too have no known cure.

The team also visited Mesach Katende of Kasango Village in Kabonera Sub-county. He said he used to sell 40 bunches of bananas per month. Today, the number has drastically reduced. Deborah Katasi, the area agricultural extensionist, told the MPs that the farmers had tried their best to fight the disease through carrying out the recommended measures.

Finding solutions
Makara showed the MPs how the disease is spread and told them one approach the National Agricultural Research Organisation (Naro) had come up with was the application of genetic modification (GM) technology. This is to protect the banana crop from the disease since there was no chemical treatment for the disease.

GM research is also being directed to the fight against viral cassava diseases and to boost nutrition value in some food crops like millet, beans and sweet potatoes.
This aimed at overcoming malnutrition in children and pregnant women. In addition, the technology is used in drought-tolerant maize as well as pest-resistant cotton.

Debating the law
Much as the Naro scientists had made headway in BBW-resistant varieties, these cannot be availed to the farmers. This is due to the absence of a law and regulatory arrangement to govern the process.

The biotechnology and bio-safety Bill has not yet been passed into a law by Parliament.
Many MPs side with those who are anti-GM technology while others agree with Naro scientists that it should be used as one of the solutions to the problem. BBW, which has reduced the banana production by almost half, is posing a serious threat to food security.

SOURCE: Daily Monitor


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