Uganda’s farming leaders

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Uganda may adopt genetically modified organisms (GMOs)

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Just imagine the economic and social gain to Ugandan farmers if Uganda had adopted genetically modified (GM) crops in 2000-the time when President Museveni committed his support to GM crop research?

World over there has been significant gains from adopting these GM crops. It improved productivity and income resulting in farm income gains of approximately USD100 Billion in 2014. Half of this income was due to lower production costs and half due to a productivity gain of 328 Million tons.

GM crops also protected biodiversity. To produce 328 Million tons of food would require additional 109 Million hectares of land with conventional technology. Therefore GM crops actually saved land suggesting that with adoption of GM crops, crop production will double on same area of 1.5 Billion Hectares of crop land and this will save forests/biodiversity of approximately 13 Million Hectares per year.

In addition, GM crops also reduced need for external inputs in farming for GM crops have reduced chemical pesticide use by 37% annually. This saves farmers and the economy from importing chemicals and the environment from toxic chemicals.

The president although not a scientist saw the benefits 15 years ago and if he had support from the legislatures, Ugandan farmers would have been among those who could have gained from such benefits.

The president is among the very few African leaders committed to using science to improve agricultural production. If his commitment had not been sabotaged by the parliament and the heavily funded ant-GMO activists, by now Ugandan farmers would be reaping the benefits of adopting GMOs.

President Museveni would thus win a majority of the votes from the adopting farmers. One thing is still very clear. The president and a majority of his cabinet are for science lead development and we should commend them for this commitment. His commitment was demonstrated since 2000, when his government committed half a million dollars of its own money (not donor funds) to develop the state of the art biotechnology centre at Kawanda.

In 2003, the president commissioned the Laboratory and work on developing genetically modified (GM) bananas started. From this commitment, many development partnerships were created to transfer technology and train staff. Later more capacity was developed at Namulonge (now National Crop Resources Research Institute) and several projects to evaluate GM technology have since been undertaken.

As I write this article Uganda is more equipped than ever before and we should have been in full throttle using GM crops to improve farming and making it competitive and attractive. In terms of biotechnology infrastructure there are 15 research institutions actively involved in biotech research and development.

There are four genomics laboratories, two of them are involved in developing GM crops in addition to those at Makerere University. These laboratories conform to biosafety level II, a global requirement by the world health organization.

In terms of human capacity development, Uganda now has about 150 scientists with capacity to handle GM crops. They have been trained and are practically involved in GM and other biotechnology related research. The current GM crops under research and development are sweet potatoes, maize, cassava, rice and bananas. These are key staple crops in the country and we are making various loses annually due to various constraints whose solutions have been developed using GM crop varieties available.

Although its already clear that President Museveni has played his role and he could be rewarded for this, Ugandan legislatures should support him and pass the Uganda National Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill 2012.

This bill once passed into law will facilitate the safe development and application of modern biotechnology and to provide mechanisms to regulate research, development and general release of genetically modified (GMOs).

Without this law the farmers will not see the benefits of such crops. It’s a requirement the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention on Biological Diversity which is an internationally binding instrument addressing issues of biosafety of GMOs. More

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