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PLANTS: Researchers put GM sweet banana on trial in Uganda thismonth

------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------
TITLE:  Researchers put GM sweet banana on trial in Uganda this month
SOURCE: The East African, Kenya
AUTHOR: Ester Nakkazi
DATE:   14.05.2007

Researchers put GM sweet banana on trial in Uganda this month

Uganda will this week import genetically modified sweet banana plants
from Belgium for field trials. The transgenic plants -- plants that
possess a gene or genes that have been transferred from a different
species -- are resistant to pests and disease.

The GM sweet banana locally known as "bogoya" and mostly eaten as a
dessert, will from this month, be tested at the Kawanda Agricultural
Research Institute (KARI) for resistance to the notorious bacterial wilt
and Black Sigatoka fungal disease.

Field results are expected within 5-10 years.

The new variety is expected to save up to 50 per cent of yields that are
destroyed by pests and diseases thus increasing production of the
country's staple crop, which is also popular in Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda
and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

According to Geoffrey Arinaitwe, the Ugandan scientist who was involved
in the development variety, if the field trials succeed, Uganda will be
the provider of the technology in Africa.

Mr Arinaitwe said after the field trials in Kawanda, the best transgenic
line will be selected and multiplied. Later, the technology will be
transferred to highland bananas locally known as matooke and to the
plantain variety.

The banana wilt is the number one fungal disease that affects banana
production world wide. The wilt wipes out at least 90 per cent of the
fruit on the trees it affects. An infected tree is poisonous to both
humans and animals.

Scientists say the commonest way in which the disease is spread is
through pollination by bees that pick pollen from the female of the
plant and transport it to male banana plants for cross-pollination.

However, with the GM banana variety, scientists say there is no risk of
contamination of other plants and to the environment in case of a
disease breakout.

"The gene within the GM plant cannot be transferred to another plant
because the banana will not produce fertile pollen. So there is no risk
of gene contamination for other plants and the environment," said Mr

Bananas are cultivated in 80 tropical countries, representing the fourth
most consumed food crop in the world. Efforts in the region include, a
virus resistant sweet potato currently undergoing field trials in Kenya,
while insect-resistant maize and cotton will be tested soon.

Pest and disease-resistant GM crops have significantly reduced the use
of chemical pesticides. The most important potential benefit of GM crops
will be their contribution to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of
reducing poverty and hunger by 50 per cent in 2015.

Prof Jocelyn Webster, executive director of AfricaBio a research
organisation said cultivation of GM crops is one way of increasing food
security in Africa. "These crops are not the final solution, but a vital
tool in the fight against food insecurity in Africa and to make the
continent less dependant on food aid," she said.

The Uganda National Council for Science and Technology has already
provided a permit for the importation of the transgenic materials and
the test site has been prepared.

Construction of a screen house to test the crop, said Tilahun Zeweldu, a
biotechnology advisor at the Agricultural Productivity Enhancement
Programme, working under aid agency Usaid.

Almost 24.5 per cent of incomes in Ugandan households come from bananas,
while 70 per cent of farmers grow bananas as a staple food as well as
for making local alcoholic brew and for spirits for export.

Andrew Kiggundu, a plant biotechnologist at KARI said strategic crops
such as cassava resistant to the mosaic virus, sweet potatoes rich in
Vitamin A and cotton have been earmarked for testing before the end of
the year at Namulonge Research Institute and the National Agricultural
Research Organisation.

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