By Ronald Ssekandi
in WAKISO, Uganda (Xinhua) --
Scientists in Uganda are in labs and paddies searching for
high-yield varieties to feed Africa’s increasing demands for
Scientists, policy makers and rice traders all
agree that rice has a long value chain, which employs many
people from farmers, millers to the traders. They also hail the
crop’s crucial role in feeding the food insecure parts of the
Researchers from Uganda, Nigeria and Ghana are using genetic
modification (GM) to create rice varieties capable of
withstanding depleted soils, drought and give a high yield.
In Uganda’s National Crops Resources Research Institute (NaCRRI),
scientists are working on a rice variety inserted with barley
genes to make it more efficient in utilizing nitrogen.
Nitrogen is critical to the proper growth of a crop.
"We are harvesting a trial which started in April this year.
"The trial is concerned with understanding new rice varieties
that were developed using transgenic methods under low, moderate
and high nitrogen levels," Jimmy Lamo, a rice breeder at NaCRRI
"We transformed variety Nerica 4, which is about 70 percent
of the upland rice grown in the country but frequently gets
yield penalty due to drought and low soil fertility especially
The trials are being carried out under strict scrutiny by the
National Council of Science and Technology (NCST), a state
agency responsible for regulating genetic modification
Uganda is in the process of enacting a biotechnology law that
will regulate the use of GM technology.
Figures from the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF)
show that Africa can only produce up to 50 percent of the rice
it consumes while the rest needs to be imported.
"We import over 13 million metric tonnes per year, which
comes to 5.6 billion U.S. dollars per annum.
That is a lot foreign exchange that we lose," Sani Kayode a
Project Manager at AATF told Xinhua in an interview.
The lost revenue could be used for other development in
Africa if the continent was producing enough rice, he said.
Kayode said African countries like Nigeria and Ghana that
have a bio-safety law in place could go ahead and start planting
the rice so that farmers can benefit.