New GM banana could help tackle Uganda’s nutrition challenges

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A genetically modified (GM) banana with six times the normal level of vitamin A could be widely available in Uganda in five years’ time.

National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO) acting director Dr Andrew Kiggundu, has spent seven years working on the new cultivar in a bid to help solve the country’s nutritional problems.

He said 52% of children under the age of five in Uganda suffer from vitamin A deficiencies leading to considerable stunting. Iron deficient anemia accounts for 40% of deaths among this age group and 30% of deaths in pregnant women.

Kiggundu said although Uganda doesn’t have a law for GM commercial products he hopes the new cultivar will gain approval via the Uganda National Council for Science and Technology’s  research regulation act.

“There will be considerable debate both pro and against  the technology but we are very optimistic that the law will be eventually passed. We have been engaging at a top level and the message we have been receiving is that they will probably support the projects and eventually have them with the farmers.”

The experiments with the new banana started back in 2005-06, and work is still being conducted to improve the iron content of the fruit and resistance to parasitic nematodes that in extreme cases can cause up to 60% crop loss.

Uganda is the largest per capita consumer of bananas in the world with an average person eating between 750 grams and a kilogram every day. It’s a special type of cooking banana which is adapted to the east African highlands and constitutes a major staple source of carbohydrates.

The project has received support from the Ugandan government, NARO, the Bill & Melissa Gates Foundation and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

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