Uganda – New banana variety for the urban/rural poor
Poor Ugandans living in rural and urban areas suffering from chronic under-nutrition will have access to two bio-fortified banana cultivars – matooke and sweet bananas by 2016.
Prof. Wilberforce Tushemereirwe, the National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO) national banana research programme leader said this.
“For a long time, the Ministry of Health identified the most critical nutritional micronutrients as Vitamin A and iron,” he recalled.
Iron deficiency anaemia is at about 73% of children under five years, 50% of pregnant women and accounts for about 30% of maternal deaths.
Children below the age of five are stunted due to malnutrition.
The recent Uganda Demographic and Health Survey shows the consequences of long-term nutritional deprivation can culminate in ill health and death.
“Iodine was one of the nutritional problems but was wiped out after the ministry made sure that all imported salt is iodized,” said Tushemereirwe.
A similar programme has been successfully done in Australia on Cavendish bananas where they have bio-fortified rice with pro-vitamin A using a gene from maize.
“The soybean gene ‘Ferritin’ has been inserted in the banana cells to make protein that enhances the stores iron in banana fruit pulp,” said Dr. Geofrey Arinaitwe, the banana biofortification project co-principle investigator.
“Other genes inserted are from yellow maize and ‘Asupina’ banana cultivar from South East Asian Islands, all very rich in pro-vitamin A carotenoid content that is converted into vitamin A by our body,” he added.
Already, 132 different transgenic banana lines put out in the confined field trial have each been inserted with the gene independently.
Arinaitwe said this is the first time for Ugandans and Africa to develop genetically modified crops (Banana 21) to reach the stage of confined field trial.
After the bio-fortification research, pro-vitamin A and iron-rich bananas will go through food and environment safety assessments before they are released to farmers.
Uganda produces 10 million tonnes of banana annually, making her the world’s second largest banana producer after India.