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GM potato variety could deflate GMO myths’ bubble in Uganda

Uganda is steadily progressing towards having a potato that will not require chemical spraying. This is because scientists at the National Agricultural Research Organisation (Naro) and International Potato Center have developed a late blight resistant variety, Vic 1, from the popularly grown susceptible Victoria variety.

According to Dr. Alex Barekye, who is the director of Kachwekano Zonal Agricultural Research Development Institute in Kabale District, this new variety has shown great results in resisting late blight disease that is a menace in potato growing areas.

Currently, Naro is conducting confined multi-location trials in major potato regions of Uganda: in Kigezi at Kachwekanko, Rwenzori at Rwebitaba, and Elgon at Buginyanya. This is the stage in variety development process where a potential variety is subjected to different agro-ecological conditions to observe how it responds to different environments.

The source of disease resistance in this new potato variety is from a close relative of domesticated potatoes that had been used earlier by breeders. The difference here is in how resistance was transferred. In conventional breeding, the resistance is transferred through pollen, while here, that resistance carried in the pollen was isolated and transferred through genetic engineering. It has made it possible for scientists to improve the local Victoria variety without changing anything else other than adding late blight disease resistance.

In October, Parliament passed the Biosafety Bill that seeks to create regulations, and offices to oversee the adoption of these promising technologies. Uganda, despite the high number of research trials, ratification of Cartagena protocol on Biosafety in 2001, and the passing by Cabinet of Biosafety Policy in 2008, remains a laggard in having a domesticated comprehensive regulatory framework for genetic engineering research developments.

As in most African countries, the major adoption challenge is the political will. Political will is seen in action not utterances. The delay in passing the Biosafety Bill and the further delay by the President to assent to the same could be interpreted as a “go slow” policy position. Going slow implies farmers will continue to suffer with pests and diseases.

Source: Daily Monitor, Uganda

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