Why did Tanzanian farmers demand growing GM crops?

By Michael J. Ssali

An online weekly newsletter, Crop Biotech Update, reported on June 6, 2017, that farmers in Mwanza Province, North Eastern Tanzania urged their government to hasten delivery of GM crops which they said would save them from crop failure.

The maize, cassava, and cotton farmers whose crop has been severely affected by stalk borer pests, cassava mosaic, disease and African cotton bollworm, respectively said they had applied chemical and cultural methods against the pests with no success over the years. They disclosed the problem to Tanzanian government officials, journalists, and scientists who visited their farms during a media training organised by Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology in Africa (OFAB-Tanzania) on May 29-331, 2017.

Cassava researcher Dr Simon Jeremiah (left) talking to a cassava farmer in Chato district in Tanzania.

One of the farmers, Chongo Ngundamira, pointed out that the high cost of inputs to control pests and diseases have decreased production capacity. “We have heard that scientists are working on biotech maize, cassava and cotton that will need less spraying as the crops are self-protected against pests and diseases,” he said.

This problem is not limited to Tanzanian farmers as we also have almost similar issues in Uganda where, for example, Irish potato farmers lose up to 60 per cent of the crop due to late blight disease and have to spend a lot of money buying fungicides to protect the crop. Yet through biotech research our scientists under NARO (National Agricultural Research Organisation) have come up with GM potatoes that have shown extreme resistance to late blight and don’t need fungicide spraying. The scientists have also come up with GM bananas that have shown resistance to the banana bacterial wilt disease which has wiped out nearly half of the crop in the country.

The researchers have also prepared GM cassava that is resistant to cassava brown streak disease which has greatly reduced the food crop. They have come up with drought tolerant and stem borer resistant maize. However, farmers cannot grow the crops because our government has delayed to pass the Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill which is required before these improved crop varieties resulting from biotechnology can be passed on for growing.

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