Researchers at the National Agricultural Research Laboratories (NARL) in Kawanda have said they are ready to go for an open-field trial of a genetically-modified banana, before it is released to the public in 2021.
This follows the passage of the National Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill, 2012 which now gives them a go-ahead to move out of the station to test their varieties in the community. The law now awaits the presidential assent but the fact that it has been passed by parliament, where it spent more than five years, is a big milestone.
Dr Priver Namanya Bwesigye, a senior researcher and plant biotechnologist at NARL, explained to The Observer: "We have a number of technologies that are almost ready to go. Now that the law has been passed, we're able to go to the field."
Going for open-field trials, Bwesigye explained, means that they will test the banana varieties with the farmers and the farming communities to make sure they can resist the bacterial wilt in different agro-ecological zones.
"The national variety release committee requires us to test varieties in different zones in the country. It requires us to show that if a variety resists banana bacterial wilt in Masaka, it can also do the same in Gulu."
For bananas, the researchers need at least two years to evaluate and test in the farming community. This means they will be ready to release GM bananas to the general public in 2021.
The GM varieties are meant to resist banana bacterial wilt and they are also pro-vitamin A to fight malnutrition among most communities around the country. Dr Bwesigye told us that all conventionally-bred bananas don't have resistance to banana bacterial wilt.
The banana bacterial wilt resistant gene was obtained from green pepper, which is an edible crop while the pro-Vitamin A gene, was got from a banana variety not grown in this region but only found in South Eastern Asia.
These genes are added into the already existing varieties to make them resistant to banana bacterial wilt and become pro-vitamin A.
"The banana remains the same. The only thing that changes is the resistance to diseases," she said.