Uganda Testing Genetically Modified Bananas

ugandaUgandan researchers from the National Agricultural Research Laboratories in Kawanda, have recently began field testing genetically modified bananas. The idea is to help banana farmers in Africa’s Great Lakes region who lose their banana crop to bacterial disease known as banana Xanthomonas wilt (BXW), which causes infected bananas to ripen unevenly and prematurely, and then to wilt and rot. The genetic modification process that the researchers are investigating involves taking a sweet pepper gene, which produces a protein called HRAP that strengthens the plant’s ability to seal off infected cells, and inserting it into the banana genome.

With this research on GM bananas, Uganda now joins Africa’s GM club–which currently consists of South Africa, Egypt and Burkina Faso, which grow GM crops commercially, and Kenya, which is expected to start growing such crops in 2012. Several other African countries will soon be eligible members as they are conducting field trials, or, are about to start, on staples such as cowpea (or black-eyed pea), cassava and sweet potato.

The research, growth and commercialization of GM bananas in Africa and other developing nations, or any other staple crop for that matter, raises profound concerns for farmers and consumers alike. We are not just talking about health and environmental safety issues, although they continue to remain at the forefront. To many, genetic modification of crops in developing nations represents issues of domination and control (patented seeds that farmers do not own), access (could farmers afford the annual purchase of GM seeds? will farmers have access to non GM seeds? will governments take measures to prevent cross-contamination?), forced change of agricultural practices (no seed saving allowed, requiring farmers to use specific herbicides and pesticide, creating monocultures, etc), plundering of natural resources (patenting plants unique to Africa) and most importantly, a hereto unseen dependence on a foreign corporation (farmers dependent on inputs, markets, and credit; dependency leads to fewer farmers, lower prices for farmers, jobless, indebtedness and loss of land).

Because of Africa’s painful history with colonialism, it’s not surprising that many feel that GMOs is another manifestation of neo-colonialism.

While GM bananas in Uganda are being researched by government scientists, we do not know who or what is funding the research, nor has researched revealed as to how Uganda plans to commercialize GM bananas (license them to a corporation?). Furthermore, many have criticized the current governmental framework which consists of no existing legislature and only two proposed bills that are seen as protecting the rights of commercial plant breeders and not the small farmers or indigenous plant varieties. The findings of Professor James Katorobo, who recently examined the GMO policy in Uganda, demonstrate that there are many problems with the proliferation of GMOs in Africa, not the least of which is a lack of comprehensive legislative scheme.


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  • esta torry

    Well the question am concerned about, is why these products were banned from the member countries in Europe? why do these groups have to make there research in Africa? we all know that African countries are the dumping ground for unwanted products. Just because we are third world countries doesn’t mean we deserve to die for a cheap cause like having your products grow 100% faster just so we can make a quick burk.

  • Deniza Gertsberg

    You raise a good question as to why some European countries have public officials who openly oppose GMOs–is civil society better organized? Is there more respect for traditional farming methods? And while we agree with you that Africa has historically suffered at the hands of imperialism, in the case of GMOs everyone is impacted. In the US alone: 93% of soy beans are GM; b/w 73-78% of cotton is GM; b/w 63-73% of corn is GM; and a whole whopping 95% of sugar beets have been GM (half of sugar in US is made from sugar beets).