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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

NCRRI, others plan genetically modified cassava for Africa

The National Crops Resources Research Institute (NCRRI) in Uganda and Kenya and other research agencies are currently  developing cassava varieties under a collaborative project termed ‘virus resistant cassava for Africa,’ NaijaAgroNet reports.

The project which also involves Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization, and the Donald Danforth Plant Centre, is aimed at developing cassava varieties that are not only resistant to viruses but also preferred by farmers. When supported and released, these cassava varieties have the potential of saving farmers preferred varieties which had been abandoned because they were susceptible to cassava brown streak disease.

An agriculturist, science writer and an advocate on science-based interventions in solving agricultural challenges in developing countries, Isaac Ongu, said farmers are not only looking for resistant cassava but cassava with the familiar taste that they and their children have always eaten and enjoyed.

Genetic engineering, he said, has a great potential to preserve farmers’ desirable traits with minimum variation compared to conventional breeding that always register marked differences in tastes and texture of cassava. This project, NaijaAgroNet gathered, is not only trying to deliver resistant cassava but could rescue farmers’ preferred varieties that have been abandoned because of the viruses.

Scientists are improving cassava because of its potential in guaranteeing household food security as well as its potential as an industrial raw materials in brewery, bakery, fuel and pharmaceuticals. Anti GMO activists too are resisting biotech cassava because of its potential to deflate the balloon of lies surrounding GM crops. They are frankly scared that the new GM cassava with its focus of preserving farmers preferred traits stands a high chance of being adopted by several households — if it’s not blocked.

Anti GMO activists have intentionally twisted the fact that intercropping would work well with most genetically modified crops and misinform and scare farmers, alleging that all GM crops cannot be intercropped. One of the crops they are targeting is genetically modified and nutritionally enhanced cassava, which has been tweaked to be virus resistant, protecting Africa’s most important staple against two of the most virulent cassava viruses in Africa, the cassava brown streak disease and cassava Mosaic disease.

Cyriacus Nnaji/GEE

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Pix: Isaac Ongu

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