Uganda’s bananas have goodness of carrots

By Ayanda Mdluli. Time of article published Jul 13, 2012

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In Uganda, where food insecurity has been the order of the day, enterprising scientists have taken biotechnology a step further by producing bananas that are rich in vitamin A and iron and that have the colour of carrots once peeled.

During a media tour at the National Agricultural Research Laboratories in Kampala this week, scientists said they aimed to ensure that bananas, a staple food in Uganda, were rich in vitamin A and iron and resistant to nematodes.

Nematodes are microscopic worms or parasites that damage crops. In extreme cases, they could reduce yields by as much as 60 percent, some experts on the tour said.

Scientists isolated the transgenic embryos that contain these various strains and cultured them on carrots before they were transferred to the transgenic plants.

Andrew Kiggundu, the research director at Uganda’s National Agricultural Research Organisation (Naro), said the enhancement of vitamin A and nematode resistance in bananas would improve the lives and nutritional state of Ugandans who lacked crucial nutrients.

“We also expect that we can recover 40 percent of losses if we can assist farmers with resistance to nematodes.”

Vitamin A deficiency claims the lives of more than 600 000 children under five in developing countries every year. The lack of vitamin A can lead to night blindness and is a cause of maternal mortality.

Kiggundu said the aim was to ensure that the fortified bananas had at least four times more vitamin A than natural bananas. The bananas were enriched through tissue culture, which is an advanced technology for multiplying plants.

Other biological problems affecting crops in Uganda are virulent pests such as weevils, and diseases such as banana bacterial wilt and fungal black sigatoka, which also affects bananas. Other diseases are cassava mosaic and cassava brown streak disease.

Emily Twinamasiko, the director-general of Naro, said Uganda was plagued by various food security challenges, which had driven the organisation to explore biotechnology.

In addition to the challenges, policies governing biotechnology in the country were not complete as the country had experienced major challenges in implementing laws.

“Some of the frameworks have not been defined and there is a lack of infrastructure where the industry depends on donors,” she said.

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