Cassava farmers from different parts of the country are in agony over what they describe as the devastating impact of diseases that are destroying the crop and hence their livelihoods.
United under a loose association known as the Cassava Farmers of Uganda, the farmers from West Nile, Buganda, Busoga and Western Uganda recently petitioned Speaker Rebecca Kadaga, asking her to cause the passage of the Genetic Engineering and Regulatory Act (GERA) into law since it was returned to Parliament by president Yoweri Museveni with proposed amendments.
Jackson Jurua, a member of a West Nile Cassava Farmers cooperative, says he and his colleagues have been badly hit by a disease that causes rotting of tubers, especially when the crop is nearing maturity.
Jurua narrated his ordeal saying: “I cultivated five acres of NARO CAS 1, which is a sweet variety and is good for porridge. But I and several of my colleagues discovered that when the crop is about to mature, the roots rot. We reported the problem to the district but I think the extension department is overstretched and could not come to our rescue.
“In the meantime, we visited Namulonge and discovered that researchers had found a solution to our problem. Unfortunately, we cannot access the varieties because of the absence of a law. We now want to revert to our traditional varieties. The disadvantage with them is that they are bitter and have limited market,” says Jurua.
Researchers with the National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO) say the country is suffering from a widespread infestation of two diseases; the Cassava Brown Streak Disease (CBSD) as well as the Cassava Mosaic Disease (CMD). Both diseases cause rotting of tubers and can lead up to 100% loss of yield.
However, using modern tools of genetic engineering, Ugandan researchers working with colleagues from around the world have succeeded in finding solutions to the viral disease.
Last year researchers at the National Crops Resources Research Institute (NaCRRI) confirmed they had succeeded in finding new varieties that are resistant to both diseases using genetic engineering.
Despite this reassuring news, Ugandan farmers cannot access the varieties because of lack of a law that would regulate the distribution of crops developed using GM technology.
Using findings of Uganda’s cassava research, scientists in Kenya are moving quickly to seek the approval of the CBSD and CMD resistant cassava varieties.
Under the circumstances of political red tape, Ugandan cassava farmers have sought the intervention of Speaker Kadaga to ensure that the law is passed so that they benefit from the fruits of research that has been championed by Ugandan researchers.
Below is an abridged version of the cassava farmers’ petition.
“We are representatives of cassava farmers from West Nile, Buganda, Busoga and Western regions, who have experienced the devastating effects of Cassava Brown Streak Disease (CBSD) in our fields for a very long time. This has led to loss of household incomes and made us vulnerable to famine.
We have had the opportunity to visit researchers at Namulonge Research Institute and observed how the new varieties they have developed are similar to what we grow yet resistant to the disease that affect our cassava.
Researchers at Namulonge told us the technology they used to develop these new crops is called biotechnology whose products are regulated. We are aware that the law that is meant to regulate this new cassava is before your honorable house.
We therefore kindly request and petition the honourable house through you Right Honourable Speaker to consider prioritizing passing of Genetic Engineering Regulatory law that is before you to enable us access new varieties that could be of benefit to us.
We would also like to request if you may permit that we come to your office and share our experiences with you of this terrible disease that continue to cause misery to us and other cassava farmers across Uganda