Science - March 17, 2010

GM Banana split in Uganda

The introduction of genetically modified (GM) bananas in Uganda could meet stiff resistance from the urban population in the country, according to environmental economist Enoch Kilukwe, who obtains his doctorate in Wageningen this week.

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In 2007, Belgian and Ugandan plant breeders used genetic modification (GM) created a banana that was resistant to the Black Sigatoka fungus. This fungus-resistant banana is now undergoing safety assessments and field tests. Kikulwe investigated to what extent the Ugandan population would welcome this GM banana if it were to be introduced.
Education
Kikulwe concluded that the higher their education and income, the more negative Ugandan consumers were about GM technology. Most of the opponents to GM technology in Uganda, 42 percent, live in the cities. GM's supporters, the other 58 percent, live in the rural areas. The rural population, with low incomes and large households, expect the disease-resistant banana species to raise their incomes. The urban population, with their higher incomes, are wary of the health and environmental risks. So education has a negative impact on willingness to pay for GM bananas, claims Kikulwe.
Cautious
The research makes it clear that GM technology mainly benefits the poor in Africa, says Kikulwe. He also concludes that the introduction of GM bananas would be advantageous for all Ugandans. But in view of the expected resistance from the urban population, he argues for a cautious introduction of the GM banana after safety assessments.
Kikulwe's research has been financed by the Rockefeller foundation and the Belgian government. He obtains his PhD on 19 March; his supervisor was environmental economist Ekko van Ierland. The chair group is organizing a symposium on the role of GM technology in development on 18 March.

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