Kampala, Uganda — Ugandan farmers have been told that national food security could be substantially improved by using Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) to get better yields.
Prof Calestous Juma, the Director of the Science, Technology and Globalization Project at Harvard University was recently giving a lecture organized by the Association for Strengthening Agriculture Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA) at the Golf Course Hotel in Kampala.
"Resisting new technologies won't develop Africa and Uganda specifically the rumours that GMO's have bad effects is false and I urge Ugandans to adopt them. Biotechnology and in particular GMOs are not more risky than conventional plant breeding," he said.
"Biotechnology and genetic engineering have the potential to do for agriculture what mobile technology has done for the communications sector in Africa however it would be dangerous to adopt GMOs without clear flexible and supportive biotechnology regulations.
Therefore I ask the Ugandan Parliament to pass the Biotechnology Bill, Prof. Calestous," told his audience.
He stressed the role of technology in transforming livelihoods. He insisted that if Africa didn't embrace GMOs in agriculture, the problems like climate change, pests and diseases that have dogged the sector over the years would diminish production to shocking levels.
He cited the banana bacterial wilt which has devastated banana growing areas in Uganda. He said the problem could be solved if farmers planted GMO banana varieties that are resistant to the wilt.
Instead of focusing on rumours that harmed the reputation GMOs, he said that it was better for governments to empower institutions to effectively check the safety standards of each product introduced on the market.
He said biotechnology had caused a 24% increase in cotton yield per acre and a 50% growth in cotton profit among American smallholder farmers between 2006 and 2008.
It also raised consumption expenditure by 18% during the period. He cited another report which stated that GMO crops that are pest-resistant had also suppressed pests even beyond areas where they were originally planted. This assisted farmers who don't grow GMOs. He said that genetic engineering would make agriculture more attractive and reduce the number of youth running away from rural areas to look for jobs in the urban areas.
ASARECA is a sub-regional not-for-profit association. It was established in 1994 by 10 member countries represented by their national agricultural research for development institutes.
The 10 member countries are: Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda. During the 1st ASARECA General Assembly in December 201, South Sudan joined the ASARECA family, making the number of members 11.