News / Africa

Growing Controversy Over GMO Bananas in Uganda

A banana leaf affected with black sigatoka at the National Agricultural Research Organization, Uganda, Sept. 13, 2013. (Hilary Heuler/VOA)
A banana leaf affected with black sigatoka at the National Agricultural Research Organization, Uganda, Sept. 13, 2013. (Hilary Heuler/VOA)
Uganda is poised to introduce genetically modified organisms as parliament considers a bill to regulate them.  The modified crops could be the answer to devastating diseases like banana wilt.  But the issue has been highly controversial.

On a small, tidy banana plantation just outside Kampala, Andrew Kiggundu walked among the plants turning over leaves.  The plot was lush and green, but still, he did not like what he saw.

“The disease on the leaves you see right now is not the wilt, it is a different disease called black sigatoka.  It is just killing off the leaves and causing significant yield loss," he said. "This is a big problem, although of course not as much as the wilt, because the wilt just destroys the whole plant.”

Kiggundu works with the National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO), an Ugandan government agency developing genetically modified bananas.  The new plants are meant to be resistant to black sigatoka and banana bacterial wilt, which has been wiping out vast swaths of the country’s crop.

The lab at the National Agricultural Research Organization grows disease-resistant genetically modified bananas, Uganda, Sept. 13, 2013. (Hilary Heuler/VOA)The lab at the National Agricultural Research Organization grows disease-resistant genetically modified bananas, Uganda, Sept. 13, 2013. (Hilary Heuler/VOA)
x
The lab at the National Agricultural Research Organization grows disease-resistant genetically modified bananas, Uganda, Sept. 13, 2013. (Hilary Heuler/VOA)
The lab at the National Agricultural Research Organization grows disease-resistant genetically modified bananas, Uganda, Sept. 13, 2013. (Hilary Heuler/VOA)
Uganda is the world’s number one consumer of bananas, a staple in terms of food security.  NARO Research Director Wilberforce Tushemereirwe said this is why it is so important to produce healthy plants.

“The disease keeps on moving around wiping out garden after garden, so you will go to areas where you find they have changed from banana to annual crops," he said. "That has already introduced food insecurity, because they are not used to handling annual crops.”

Uganda already allows trials of genetically modified organisms and a Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill before parliament would set the legal stage for their development and distribution.

But the issue has created a firestorm among Ugandan activists, with many claiming genetically modified organisms would be dangerous to human health, the environment and the livelihoods of small-scale farmers.

Giregon Olupot, a soil biophysicist at Kampala’s Makerere University, has been an outspoken critic of the technology.

“There are a range of options that risk to be wiped [out], just by this technology," said Olupot.  "With bananas, tissue culture has worked well to engineer healthy plants.  You then take these plants to a clean garden and maintain field hygiene.  Why are we not giving emphasis to that technology?”

Most genetically modified seeds are patented, requiring farmers to re-purchase them after each planting.  This might work for commercial farmers, said Olupot, but Uganda’s subsistence farmers relied on their own seeds.  Marketing genetically modified organisms to them could mean trapping them in a system they could not afford, he said.

“If you are to go commercial, it has to be on a large scale.  Now the farmers we are talking about, on average, have 0.4 hectares of land.  It is simply not suitable for our farmers,” said Olupot.

Uganda’s genetically modified bananas are being developed by a public institution, and NARO said no patent restrictions would apply to them.  But Olupot said this would probably not be the case with future genetically modified crops introduced to Uganda.

Anti-GMO campaigners have been diligent in spreading their message, remarked Kiggundu, and many farmers were now afraid of genetically modified organisms.

“They are, because of course they have heard a lot of bad things about them from those who are trying to de-campaign the technology.  And for the few times that I have been out there and able to tell them the truth, you could see second thoughts.  That sort of response tells you that they have maybe a preconceived idea,” he said.

The Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill is expected to pass before the end of the year.  But Olupot insisted that if a referendum on genetically modified organisms were held today among Ugandan farmers, the response would be an overwhelming “no.”

You May Like

Video Anti-Muslim Sponsor of Texas Cartoon Contest Draws Ire

Pamela Geller's supporters say she speaks truth about sensitive topic, while critics say she preaches 'that Islam is inherently evil' More

East Meets West in Exhibition Showing Chinese Influence on Fashion

Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition juxtaposes influence of art, imagery and culture, from Imperial China to the present day, on Western fashion and design More

South Africa Begins New Love Affair With Vinyl Records

Enthusiasts say the 'rebirth' of vinyl is resulting in a rebirth of music in South Africa More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Mass Grave Exposes Entrenched Trafficking in Thailandi
X
May 05, 2015 5:50 PM
Police in southern Thailand have found two more camps believed to have held human trafficking victims -- one containing a buried skeleton. This comes just days after officials announced arrests in connection with the grisly discovery of 26 bodies in a mass grave at another location. Officials suspect as many as 400 mostly ethnic Rohingya from Myanmar were being held for ransom at the remote camp near the Malaysian border. Steve Sandford reports on developments in the case.
Video

Video Mass Grave Exposes Entrenched Trafficking in Thailand

Police in southern Thailand have found two more camps believed to have held human trafficking victims -- one containing a buried skeleton. This comes just days after officials announced arrests in connection with the grisly discovery of 26 bodies in a mass grave at another location. Officials suspect as many as 400 mostly ethnic Rohingya from Myanmar were being held for ransom at the remote camp near the Malaysian border. Steve Sandford reports on developments in the case.
Video

Video Russia's 'Victory Day' Glory Over Nazis Overshadowed by Ukraine

ussia is preparing to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, known since the Soviet era as “The Great Patriotic War,” with a massive parade on May 9th of military hardware and millions of medals handed out to veterans or their relatives. But critics say the Soviet-style display of power and nationalism overshadows tragic scars during and after the war that still influence politics and foreign policy, especially in the current Ukraine crisis.
Video

Video WWII Anniversary Brings Old Friends and New Worries

The 70th anniversary of the end of World War II has special significance, with Russia becoming more assertive in Ukraine and sending its military planes to the edges of western countries’ airspace. Changes in the geostrategic balance and the transatlantic relationship are felt across the continent, not least in German towns that have hosted U.S. military bases since the defeat of Nazi Germany. VOA’s Al Pessin visited Schweinfurt, Germany, where a large base closed last year.
Video

Video Abraham Lincoln Funeral Re-created for 150th Civil War Anniversary

Over the last four years, commemorative events to mark the 150th anniversary of the U.S. Civil War have brought thousands of visitors to battlefields and historic landmarks across the country. As VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports from the Midwest state of Illinois, the final event in the Civil War's sesquicentennial honors the final journey home of the slain American President, Abraham Lincoln.
Video

Video Campaign Raises Money to 'Uncuff' Journalists

Beginning Sunday – World Press Freedom Day – the Committee to Protect Journalists, a private U.S. group, is launching a campaign to bring attention to their plight and encourage efforts to free them. Deborah Block reports.
Video

Video Volunteers Pull Together to Aid Baltimore Riot Victims

Calm has returned to Baltimore, Maryland, after authorities lifted an overnight curfew imposed almost a week ago to stem the rioting that followed the funeral of Freddie Gray - the 25-year-old black man who died of spinal injuries suffered while in police custody. Six police officers, three of them African-American, have been charged in connection with his death. Baltimore is now trying to get back to normal, in part with the help of volunteers who responded to calls to help those in the city'
Video

Video From Aleppo To Berlin: Band of Brothers Escapes Civil War

Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled the civil war in their country and journeyed to Europe by boat across the Mediterranean. It is a terrifying ordeal with dangers at every turn. A group of Syrian brothers and their friends describe their ordeal as they try to reach Germany. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports. ...
Video

Video Rural Nepal Suffers Brunt of Quake’s Devastation

Nepal is still coming to grips with the full extent of the devastation and misery caused by last Saturday’s magnitude 7.8 earthquake. Some of the hardest-hit communities have been cut off by landslides making it difficult to assess the precise toll. A VOA News crew has been among the first to reach a few of the smaller, remote communities. Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Sindhupolchak district, east of Kathmandu, which suffered greatly in Nepal’s worst quake in more than 80 years.
Video

Video Obama Praises Work of 3 Immigrant Journalists

President Barack Obama met with three immigrant journalists at the White House Friday to praise them for their work ahead of World Press Freedom Day, May 3. In attendance: Dieu Cay (his pen name) a blogger from Vietnam recently released from prison; Lily Mengesha from Ethiopia who was harassed and detained for exposing the marrying off of young girls as child brides, and Fatima Tlisova, an ethnic Circassian from the North Caucasus region of Russia, who works for VOA's Russian Service.
Video

Video Middle East Atheist Channel Defies Taboo

In Egypt, a deeply religious country in a deeply religious region, atheism is not only taboo, it is dangerous. It is sometimes even criminal to publicly declare nonbelief. Despite the danger, one group of activists is pushing back with a new online channel that defends the right not to believe. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Nepal Quake Survivors Tell Their Stories

Against all hope, rescuers have found a few more survivors of the devastating earthquake that hit Nepal last Saturday. Mountain climbers and hikers trapped in remote places also have been airlifted to safety, and aid is finally reaching people in the areas closest to the quake's epicenter. Survivors and rescuers are now recounting their experience. Zlatica Hoke has this story.
Video

Video Lessons for Germany, Europe Remain on Anniversary of WWII's End

The 70th anniversary of the end of World War II will be marked May 8-9 in all European countries except Germany, which lost the war. How is the war viewed there, and what impact is it still having? From Berlin, VOA’s Al Pessin reports.
Video

Video Nepal Town Destroyed By Quake Counts Itself Lucky

Foreign search teams on Wednesday began reaching some of the communities outside Kathmandu that suffered worse damage than Nepal’s capital from last Saturday’s massive earthquake. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman is in Sankhu - a town of about 10,000 people - where there is relief the death toll is not higher despite widespread destruction.
Video

Video Somali Hotel Chain Owner Strives to Make a Difference

Many in the Somali diaspora are returning home to make a new life despite the continuing risks. Since 2011 when a military campaign against Al-Shabab militants began making progress, members of the diaspora community have come back to open hospitals, schools, hotels, restaurants and other businesses. Abdulaziz Billow in Mogadishu profiles the owner of a chain of hotels and restaurants who is helping to bring change to the once-deadly Somali capital.
Video

Video Child Migrants Cross Mediterranean Alone, Face Unknown Future

Among the thousands of migrants making the deadly journey by boat to Europe, there are unaccompanied girls and boys. Some have been sent by relatives to earn money; others are orphaned or fleeing war. From a shelter for young migrants in the Sicilian town of Caltagirone, VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.

Poll: Baltimore Police Charged

Poll archive

VOA Blogs