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Tanzania embracing genetic engineering

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14th September 2012

By Devotha Mwachang’a

Hon. Mohamed Muya

Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security and Co-operatives has started using genetic engineering to ‘modify’ seeds and control diseases that inhibit crop growth.

The announcement was made by the Ministry’s Permanent Secretary Mohamed Muya at a news conference in Dar es Salaam.

Genetic engineering, used to produce genetically modified organisms (GMO) in agriculture and other fields, has led to an increase in crop yield globally.

“The ministry believes that the use of genetic engineering could help in combating the agricultural challenges caused by climate change such as drought, infection and harmful pets which among other things need insecticides to control them…” he said.

The government, through the ministry, will continue to improve research and further adopt new technology to employ genetic engineering. Permanent Secretary Muya acknowledged that there are as he put it ‘misled and misinformed and even at times sheer speculative notions as to the side effects of the technology and in recognition of the fact announced that the government will embark on a sensitizing and information campaign.

Side effects feared include, damage of biodiversity, increased toxins and allergies, harmful to both human and other creatures’ health, uncontrollable weeds and pest and disease developing resistant.

In another development, Muya assured Tanzanians that the ministry’s intention is not to give the investors from other countries a chance to import harmful chemicals but rather the very contrary to improve Tanzanian productivity and national income and subsequently income per capita.

In giving a tangible example of the technology’s ‘good use’ , Principal Agricultural Research Officer and the officer in charge of Mikocheni Agricultural Research Institute, Dr Joseph Ndunguru revealed that Tanzania has succeeded to control diseases affecting cassava ( a major staple food of great national value) this through the use of genetic engineering.

“We used the genetic engineering technology to protect the different types of cassava including Lushura from Kagera, Gago from Tanga…” he said.

That is all very well but the peoples fear is at the very least understandable for with genetic engineering the possibilities are infinite here is an extract from science futurist site Genetic engineering is the alteration of genetic codes by artificial means and is therefore different from traditional selective breeding.

Genetic engineering examples include taking the gene that programs poison in the tail of a scorpion, and combining it with a cabbage. These genetically modified cabbages kill caterpillars because they have learned to grow scorpion poison (insecticide) in their sap.

Genetic engineering also includes insertion of human genes into sheep so that they secrete alpha-1 antitrypsin in their milk – a useful substance in treating some cases of lung disease.

If that is not enough try envisioning this, Genetic engineering has created a chicken with four legs and no wings. I will remind you this is not from some fiction story but real life and with such great possibilities comes greater responsibility and what Tanzanians want is comprehensive checks and balance, transparency and accountability.

Source: The Guardian

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