Biotechnology is a broad area of biology, involving the use of living systems and organisms to develop or make products as defined by Wikipedia. Consistently, it has been applied to improve crops, fish farming, waste management and the Medical Sector to create vaccines.
In Uganda Biotechnology began in 1993 when the Department of Animal Science at the Faculty of Agriculture at Makerere University sought to use a transgenic formed Bovine Somatotropin (BST), to enhance milk production and cattle growth in the country.
In 1995, it was required to guide Clinical trials of the an HIV vaccine named Phase 1 HIV-1 ( ALVAC VCP 205) which made it the first vaccine study in Uganda and Africa. It were these steps that laid a foundation for the Biosafety guidelines and National Biosafety Committee in 1996.
Over the years, Biotechnology has been vastly applied in Health Care and Agriculture with the aid of a Biotechnology and Biosafety Policy established in 2008.
The National Research Organization (NARO), has done profound research in areas of Crop production, crop modification and resistance to both Pests and Diseases and the unexpected weather changes caused by climate change such as drought while being rich in nutrients. Innovations around these crops include plantation particularly highland bananas which happens to be the staple food for most Ugandans, Irish and Sweet Potatoes, Cassava, Rice, Cotton, Coffee among others as indicated on PMLdaily .
However, these have remained under enclosed gardens at Research Facilities because of government’s decision to neglect the legislation of the Biotechnology and safety Bill, necessary for farmers to acquire these kind of crops.
Meanwhile farmers around the country are struggling with crop diseases such as the Banana Bacterial Wilt (BBW), which for decades has limited proper harvests. According to the Uganda Biotechnology Information Centre (UBIC), Banana Production in Uganda has reduced to seven out of 10 while affecting annual incomes of the produce from $500-$300 annually. – PMLdaily.
In addition, Maize farming has been endangered by the fall Army worm and stem borer disease with prolonged droughts worsening it’s quality.
Countries recently embracing biotechnology such as Kenya have begun to reap in tonnes after their first harvest of Genetically Modified (GM) cotton. Since the crop is resistant to pests, the country has harvested richly and as such it is now competing with world’s biggest Cotton Producers such as India, China, USA, Pakistan and Brazil.
According to The Daily Monitor, Nigeria about a month ago adopted the growth of GM Cowpeas, after produces had long been reduced to 80 percent by the Pod borer amidst importation levels at 20 percent. With the plantation of the GM Cowpeas, production has already been expected to increase to 100 percent..
Moreover, research done by the US National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine over a twenty year period showed that GMO produces have no negative effects, neither has the World Health Organization (WHO) nor has the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) reported any deaths from their consumption as stated by the PMLdaily.
Instead, scientists affirm GM crops as rich in nutrients necessary for protecting against malnutrition as compared to crops exposed to pesticides in due course of farming.
As stated by the Daily Monitor, with the impact of COVID-19 on the agricultural sector in Uganda, the Washington based Heifer International Organization showed that 87 percent of Farmers within Uganda have less than three meals daily whereas 31 percent eat one meal and 40 percent sleeping on empty stomachs as indicated by the research from PPS . This is said to have stemmed from COVID-19 measures such as lockdown which has limited transportation of farming incentives like Pesticides.
It goes without saying that with the increasing population of the country expected to surpass 100 million in 2050, it is essential that government prioritizes Agricultural innovations aimed at promoting food security and economic development.
My name is Aidah Nabunjo, a Ugandan Journalist and writer. Passionate about bringing African stories to life. Areas of interest are Agriculture, Energy , Policy and Governance. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org