Uganda expects to take its first genetically modified crop to the market in 2014 when a regulatory framework to guide production will have been enacted, say scientists at the National Agriculture Research Organisation NARO.
Yona Baguma, a senior research officer at NARO says ongoing trials on bananas, cassava, maize, cotton and potatoes are promising and once licensed GM crops have the potential to give Ugandans food security while widening the export base.
"If things go as planned, we expect commercial GM cotton in 2014, cassava 2016 and drought resistant maize by 2017,” Dr Baguma said during the launch of the global Genetically Modified Organisms report 2011 in Kampala last month.
The pioneer crops have been selected because of their potential for improving livelihood of small holder farmers who cannot participate in capital intensive activities such as flowers and tea due to cost and climatic limitations in many parts of the country.
The modified crops, according to scientists, are resistant to drought and are not easily affected by pests and diseases.
Uganda and Kenya, however, have been slow to adopt cultivation or consumption of GM crops on a commercial scale over fears of yet unknown effects of the crops on humans and bio-diversity of indigenous crops and environment.
"I have never seen any report that says GM’s are harmful to human beings,” said Peter Wamboga-Mugirya, spokesperson for the Uganda Chapter of Science Foundation for Livelihoods and Development.
Mr Mugirya says Uganda’s GM’s have undergone tests for biosafety and will be tested again before being rolled out for commercial farming. So far, cotton has undergone two trials in Kasese and Serere areas and currently awaits more trails in other cotton growing areas in the country.
The ISAAA report said the number of hectares under commercial GM’s grew by eight per cent to 160million hectares globally, up from 148million hectares in 2010.
The developing countries registered a 50 per cent growth in commercial GM’s for 2011, and are expected to overtake industrial countries this year.
"In 2011, the growth rate for biotech crops was twice as fast, and twice as large, in developing countries, at 11 per cent or 8.2 million hectares, versus five per cent or 3.8 million hectares in industrial countries,” the report says.
The five leading developing countries in biotech crops, according to the report, are India and China in Asia, Brazil and Argentina in Latin America, and South Africa on the continent of Africa, which together represent 40 per cent of the global population, expected to reach 10.1 billion by 2100.
While India celebrated its 10th anniversary of GM cotton in February this year, with plantings exceeding 10 million hectares for the first time, and reaching 10.6 million hectares, China, grew a record 3.9 million hectares of GM cotton, and the expected commercial approval of Golden rice in the Philippines in 2013/14 will be of significance to the Asian nation.
Africa, too, made steady progress with its regulation. South Africa, Burkina Faso and Egypt, together planted a record 2.5 million hectares whereas three more countries, Kenya, Nigeria, and Uganda conducted field trials.
Kenyan farmers too are likely to start growing GM cotton in the country by 2014, according to Kenya Agricultural Research Institute.