Journalists have been asked to see themselves as the mirror of society relating issues to both government and the general public, especially when the world is advancing in technological development.
“With the emergence of biotechnology, which has received a lot of negative perceptions and fears, you need to equip yourselves with the facts and help allay the fears of our people”.
Dr James .A. Ogwang, Director of the National Crops Resources Research Institute (NaCRRI) of the Uganda National Agricultural Research Organisation, said on Tuesday when a group of science journalists from Africa and Europe paid a courtesy call on him as part of a media study tour to Uganda’s biotechnology laboratory facilities.
The media tour was sponsored by the Uganda’s NARO, Africa Harvest, a Biotech Foundation International and the European Association for Bioindustries (EuropaBio).
The tour was aimed at offering the journalists, including those from Europe, an insight into the challenges and opportunities that Africa is facing in terms of food security. It was also to enable these journalists see how African researchers, farmers and the collaboration between public private partnerships to address the challenges, including biotechnology.
Dr Ogwang noted that Africa is faced with challenges of food security despite the widespread of cultivation, and mentioned climate change, emergence of pest diseases and drought among others as key examples.
“We therefore need to move from our traditional way of farming to the use of biotechnology and genetically engineering to address food security and improve our crop varieties”, he added.
The NaCRRI Director expressed the concern that many African politicians were not aware of the dangers our current traditional agricultural practices could pose in the near future and “We as research scientists and journalists have to help them understand and appreciate the need to embrace this whole idea of biotechnology”.
Uganda, which has the best biotechnology laboratory facilities, is undertaking Confined Field Trials for seven of its main food crops. These are different varieties of bananas, cassava, cotton, maize and sweet potatoes.
“All what has been done is on Confined Field Trials whilst our biosafety bill is currently being discussed in parliament and we will go straight into commercialization”.
Uganda’s testing of biotech cassava is to fight the cassava brown streak virus, which causes deadly streaks in the roots, whilst biotech corn would be resistant to drought, cotton to bollworm and banana to wilting.
Journalists earlier toured NaCRRI biotechnology laboratories, Bio sciences laboratories, the greenhouses and sweet potato experiments sites, the virus resistant cassava confined field trials as well as the farms of some Ugandan farmers.
From Linda Asante Agyei: A GNA Special Correspondent, Kampala, Uganda