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November 19, 2008

Research on GM cotton to start in Soroti, Uganda

Scientists in Soroti, Uganda, are set to start a research in the genetically modified cotton in a bid to rescue farmers from the conventional cotton which had suffered a set back in production due to the ball warm pest thereby resulting into poor yields. The Director of the National Semi Arid Resources Research Institute, Serere (NaSARRI), Dr Tom Areke with his team have already ploughed approximately one acre of land on the institute land for the field trials.

The government recently gave a go ahead for scientists to carry out research on the genetically modified cotton just as they have been doing on other crops such as the East African High land banana and cassava. NaSARRI is one of the science research centres chosen to carry out the trial with the other centre being Mubuku in Western Uganda.

The National Agricultural Research Organisation (Naro) in conjunction with the programme for Biosafety Systems is already training the farm managers from the two centres who will manage the research work. The programme director for Biosafety Systems, Dr Thereza Sengoba last week conducted a one day training for managers in both centres at NaSARRI in Soroti where a group of scientists from Malawi participated in the training to share their experience with the scientists in Uganda.

Dr Areke is optimistic that in case the research proves successful, it will be of advantage to the farmers in Teso who basically depend on cotton growing for their income since the Karamojong invaded them and took away all their cattle. Areke said the genetically modified cotton if introduced in Uganda will be cost effective because it will reduce the cost of spraying. It is at the same time environmental friendly. He said Teso and other parts of northern Uganda where the land is semi arid, the genetically modified cotton farming will prove successful because it is resistant to several factors in weather changes.

Areke said the field trial will serve as a multi- purpose research tool where science students pursuing agricultural science courses in various universities will access the research work in the trial when they come for their internship at the institute.

NaSARRI is one of the five research institutes of Naro. The Institute is also involved in carrying out research in grain legumes like pigeon pea which matures in 140 days and cow peas which matures in 90 days. Other crops include cereal crops which include among others millet and sorghum.

Other crops are the fibre species under which the cotton variety falls. In NaSSARI the scientists have two types of cotton and they include BPA 2000 and BPA 2002 which according to Dr Areke is highly desired by ginners because it produces high quality fibre for spinning and lint export.

NaSARRI is on the pipeline to breed organic cotton where black ants will be used to control the ball warm. The researchers on the other hand have embarked on growing beans in the current conventional cotton fields as a measure of diverting the pests to feed on the bean leaves instead of destroying the cotton plant.

NaSARRI further develops improved livestock pasture which they usually distribute to farmers for planting to feed the few remaining cattle. However, whereas the conventional cotton variety seeds are directly planted in the field, the genetically modified cotton has to under go field trials for scientists to establish whether they can stand the environmental conditions here.

Mr Arthur Makara, a senior scientist and Director of Science Foundation for Livelihoods and Development (Scifode) said the government policy on the genetically modified products during filed is very stringent. According to him, no person is allowed in the field unless he or she gives sufficient reasons to go there because of the fear that people may come out with the product that is being tried and take for planting in their fields without a regulatory measure in place.

The Monitor

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