Scientists say East Africa’s farmers need improved seeds to counter pests and effects of climate change Featured

They are the type of bananas farmers in drought-hit East Africa should plant, but they cannot access them — just like they can’t access other gene-edited crops in Uganda.

This is partly because of the misinformation that anti-genetically modified organisms (GMOs) activists have been spreading in Uganda and generally in East Africa.

The anti-GMO activists have claimed that gene-edited seeds will lead to the extinction of indigenous crops and put farmers at the mercy of global seed companies.

In March this year, they also claimed that East African countries do not need gene-edited seeds to fight hunger and malnutrition if they prioritize traditional farming practices.

They said agroecology is the way forward but scientists say the claims are baseless.

“You can’t compare agroecology with gene-editing and biotechnology,” said Arthur Tugume, associate professor of Plant Pathology and Virology at Makerere University.

While agroecology is an age-old approach that seeks to maximize agriculture and protect the environment, it is limited, said the scientist.
These new technologies enable farmers to plant insect-resistant, drought-tolerant, and higher-yielding crops.

“We just have to look at where we are and where we are going to appreciate these new technologies,” said Tugume.

“For instance, we have had a drought in the region for two years now, which is slowing yields, exacerbating hunger, and increasing the spread of pests.”

He added: “Our population is increasing. Estimates show that the population of Uganda will grow from the current 46 million to about 90  in the next 20 to 30 years. We cannot continue growing our food the way we have done and adequately feed this growing population and conserve our environment at the same time.”

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