Kampala — The United States Agency for International Development (Usaid) is to inject $160,000 (about Shs272 million) on pest resistant cotton trials.
Through its Agricultural Productivity Enhancement Programme (APEP), Usaid will facilitate the National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO) to undertake trials on the pest cotton referred to as Bt cotton.
Bt is a scientific name for Baccilus Thuringiensis, a beneficial bacterium that kills insects. It is a major component of pesticide industry used for control of specific caterpillar-like crop pests.
APEP Managing Director Clive Drew said on May 7 the trials are expected to start by end of May. Mr Drew said Usaid is still waiting approval from the National Biosafety Committee under the National Council of Science and Technology (NCST).
"When approved, confined field trials will be conducted to test the effects of Bt on bollworms compared to controlled cotton, which will only be sprayed," Mr Drew said. "But because of the porous nature of our borders, we got to move very fast in getting the testing done in accordance with the legal framework".
Mr Drew, however, said the trials would not be released commercially. "We don't know the outcome yet, the only thing we know is that whenever it is tested, it does not end up being released for commercial purposes," he said.
"As part of the commercial procedure, the trial sites are guarded. All materials used will be completely destroyed. So there is no chance of productive materials leaking".
The Biosafety Officer Uganda National Council of Science and Technology, Mr Arthur Makara, said the council was still reviewing the application and would come up with the date the trials will take off.
Mr Makara said the technology has a potential to increase yields, reduce number of sprays and costs of pesticides. "Yes, the confined field trials will be done, they are still at research stage but it is hard to fix a particular date as to when," Mr Makara said.
A research scientist at Kawanda Agricultural Research Institute, Mr Godfrey Arinaitwe, said during a field visit to South Africa recently that the trials will be conducted in conjunction with Cotton Development Authority (CDO), will try two technologies.
Mr Arinaitwe said one will be resistance to herbicide and the other will be resistance to the cotton pest called bollworms.
"It is a very good technology even for small scale farmers. You don't need to mix chemicals, instead you use one herbicide," Mr Arinaitwe said. Bt cotton has been tested and commercially released in a number of countries, which include among others South Africa, Brazil and India.
It is now under a testing study in Kenya and Burkina Faso.
Initially, the main application for Bt has been in maize crops.
USAID is doing trials on herbicide tolerance cotton, cotton that has been genetically modified so that if it is sprayed with round-up herbicide, the cotton is not affected but all weeds are killed.
"It will be very beneficial to Uganda because weeds are a very big problem in cotton contributing to apparently 30 per cent of yield loses, cotton being a long season crop," Mr Drew said.
If proved effective, the technologies are expected to improve the competitiveness of Uganda's cotton sector and result in increased cotton output.
The cotton output in the 2006/07 season was 135,000 bales down from 248,000 bales in the 2005/06 season. The output has generally increased from 103,000 bales in the 2004/05 season.