Uganda has got a good Biotechnology law that will allow the development of safe GMOs

By Clet Wandui Masiga

On Wednesday October 4th 2017, the 10th parliament of Uganda adopted the National Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill 2012 into Law. I was in parliament listening to all the issues debated and agreed upon. Henry Lutaaya of the Sunrise news paper interviewed me shortly after the passing of the Bill into Law. On overall Uganda has got a good law that will allow the development and commercialization of GMOs that are safe to the humans, biodiversity and environment. His article titled “What next after passing of the biosafety law?” is available at


Improving sorghum productivity using innovative breeding approaches for African resource constrained farmers

By Clet Wandui Masiga, Conservation Biologist, Geneticist and Farm Entrepreneur
At the 2nd International Conference on Global Food Security 11-14 October 2015 | Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, USA  I will be presenting onImproving sorghum productivity using innovative breeding approaches for African resource constrained farmers.


Theme 6:  Technologies to  improve and  target  production 
Venue/Room: Room 423 – ILR  Conference  Center (KingShaw Hall) 
Date: Wednesday,14thOctober 2015
Time: 10:45‐11:05

Improving sorghum productivity using innovative breeding approaches for African resource constrained farmers

CletWandui Masiga1*, Nada BabikerHamza2, Damaris Odeny3, Tadesse Yohannes4, Steven Runo6, Rasha Ali7, Robert Olupot8,  , Yusuf B Byaruhanga10, Santie de Villiers11, Hai Chun Jing12, and Abdalla H.Mohamed13


1Tropical institute of development innovations (TRIDI), P O Box 493, Entebbe Uganda

2National Centre for Research, P.O.Box 2404, Khartoum, Sudan

3International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), PO Box 39063-00623 Nairobi, Kenya

4National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI), PO Box 4627 Asmara- Eritrea

6Biochemistry and Biotechnology Department, Kenyatta University, P.O Box 43844-00100 GPO, Nairobi, Kenya

7Agricultural Research Council (ARC), P.O. Box 126, Wad-Medani, Sudan

8National Semi-Arid Resources Research Institute, Serere/National Agricultural Research Organization

10Department of Food  Technology & Nutrition, College of Agricultural and Environmental  Sciences, Makerere University, P O Box 7062, Kampala, Uganda

11Pwani University, PO Box 195-80108 Kilifi, Kenya

12Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences, 20 Nanxincun, Xiangshan,  Beijing 100093, China

13International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT-Ethiopia Po.Box 5689, Adis Ababa Ethiopia



* Correspondingauthor. Email:;

Tel: +256 772 457155




Striga remains one of the key biotic constraints affecting cereal grain production in Africa, particularly in semi-arid areas.  The Striga weed parasitizes sorghum,maize, millet, teff, sugarcane, cowpea, and rice. The current solution for managing Striga is cultural, chemical orbiocontrol measures as well asusing resistant lines. Cultural measures include crop rotation, intercropping, trap-cropping and catch cropping. Chemical measures include fertilizers, herbicides and soil sanitation, while biocontrol measures include insects and fungus.  The resistant lines that have been developed and used by farmers frequently succumb again to infection probably due to attack by different ecotypes of Striga while the other management options have proven to be expensive and unaffordablefor most African farmers.  The option proposed now is to continue improving the current resistant and tolerant lines by introgressing a gene for Strigaimmunity that has been identified in wild sorghums. We will integratean array of biotechnological approaches to alleviate constraints due to drought and Striga parasitism in sorghum.  Marker assisted breeding was used to develop Striga and drought tolerant sorghum in Sudan and these lines have been adopted by the national agricultural research systems foradvance for commercial release in Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Sudan and Eritrea. The lines were developed at the Agricultural Research Corporation of Sudan. In addition to advancing these lines, we are also using a transcriptional profiling approach to identify and validate gene products in Striga and sorghum that are essential for early post-penetration development and subsequent growth and differentiation of Striga on susceptible sorghum.  This process will accelerateStriga resistance gene identification and allow a better understanding of the molecular mechanism of Striga parasitism on sorghum.  We are also using transgenic approaches to impart tolerance to drought as well as the knowledge of marker assisted breeding, Striga phenotyping and genetics to obtain novel sources of Striga resistance and drought tolerance genes from wild relatives of sorghum by mapping advanced backcross populations derived from wild relatives of sorghum and farmer preferred sorghum varieties (FPSV). Finally, we are characterizing the nutritional and industrial technological properties of Striga resistant and drought tolerant varieties. This article details the methodologies being used to develop Striga resistant and drought tolerant sorghum lines for Africa.


Cultivated sweet potatoes are GMOs

By Clet Wandui Masiga, Conservation Biologists, Geneticist and Farm Entrepreneurs

The genome of cultivated sweet potato contains Agrobacterium T-DNAs with expressed genes. This is an example of a naturally transgenic food crop. This conclusion was reported by Kyndt et al in May 2015 in a peer reviewed original research article published by PNAS.

The experiments conducted by this group found out that two different T-DNA regions of Agrobacterium rhizogenes and Agrobacterium tumefaciens  are present in the cultivated sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas [L.] Lam.) genome and that these foreign genes are expressed at detectable levels in different tissues of the sweet potato plant. The experiment involved 217 genotypes that included both cultivated and wild species.

Accordingly the researchers concluded that their findings indicate that sweet potato is naturally transgenic. Sweet potato being a widely and traditionally consumed food crop, could affect the current consumer distrust of the safety of transgenic food crops.

In the authors own statements they indicate the significance of the study as follows:
We communicate the rather remarkable observation that among 291 tested accessions of cultivated sweet potato, all contain one or more transfer DNA (T-DNA) sequences. These sequences, which are shown to be expressed in a cultivated sweet potato clone (“Huachano”) that was analyzed in detail, suggest that an Agrobacterium infection occurred in evolutionary times. One of the T-DNAs is apparently present in all cultivated sweet potato clones, but not in the crop’s closely related wild relatives, suggesting the T-DNA provided a trait or traits that were selected for during domestication. This finding draws attention to the importance of plant–microbe interactions, and given that this crop has been eaten for millennia, it may change the paradigm governing the “unnatural” status of transgenic crops.




It costs $136 million to discover, develop and commercialize a GMO

By Clet Wandui Masiga, Conservation Biologist, Geneticist and Farm Entrepreneur

It costs $136 million to discover, develop and commercialize GMOs having any specific trait. This cost represents money spent on staff, equipment and laboratory supplies, and   the regulatory testing and registration process. The time taken is about 13 years. Much of this time which is about 5.5 years is regulatory and registration.

Below is information I obtained at crop life website on October 201 (

Each year, millions of farmers around the world plant biotech crops for higher yields, improved crop quality and the ability to use sustainable farming practices such as no-till.  Getting these innovative new traits from the lab to their fields requires a tremendous investment – a new research survey reveals how it all adds up.

  • The cost of discovery, development and authorization of a new plant biotechnology trait introduced between 2008 and 2012 is US$136 million.
  • The time from the initiation of a discovery project to commercial launch is 13.1 years on average for all relevant crops.
  • The time associated with registration and regulatory affairs is increasing from a mean of 3.7 years for an event introduced before 2002, to the current (2011) estimated 5.5 years.
  • Regulatory science, registration and regulatory affairs account for the longest phase in product development, estimated at 36.7% of total time involved.
  • The trend in the number of units (candidate genes, constructs or genetic events) being screened in order to develop one trait is increasing.

From discovering new genetic traits, field testing and meeting intense regulatory requirements that ensure environmental and human safety, the overall plant biotech R&D process is costly and time-consuming. To determine the relative cost and duration of this process, Phillips McDougall conducted a research survey based on information provided by six of the industry’s largest biotech crop developers – BASF, Bayer CropScience, Dow AgroSciences, DuPont/Pioneer Hi-Bred, Monsanto and Syngenta AG.

The September 2011 survey entitled, “The cost and time involved in the discovery, development and authorization of a new plant biotechnology derived trait”, focused on biotech traits in large scale commodity crops that had received cultivation approval in two countries and import approvals from at least five countries.

Key findings of the survey included:

Overall Cost

The cost of discovery, development and authorization of a new plant biotechnology trait introduced between 2008 and 2012 is US$136 million

Overall Time to Commercialization

The time from the initiation of a discovery project to commercial launch is 13.1 years on average. This does not include the time required to develop and obtain regulatory approval for stacked trait varieties which are the final product in most crops today.

Number of Years Required to Discover, Develop and Authorize a new Plant Biotech Trait (Mean Values)





All crops

Number of years from discovery of trait to first commercial sale







Duration of Each Activity Stage

The time associated with the R&D stage involving registration and regulatory affairs (Stage VII) is increasing from a mean of 44.5 months (3.7 years) for an event introduced before 2002, to the current estimate of 65.5 months (5.5 years). Because various activity stages overlap in real time, these totals do not reflect the actual duration of the overall R&D process described above.

Duration of Each Activity Stage in the Trait R&D Process (mean number of months)

Activity Stage

Duration for an event sold before 2002

Duration for an event introduced between 2008 and 2012

Duration to complete each stage in 2011

I Early Discovery




II Late Discovery




III Construct Optimization




IV Commercial Event Production & Selection




V Introgression Breeding & Wide-Area Testing




VI Regulatory Science




VII Registration & Regulatory Affairs




Total Cumulative Time




Number of Units Evaluated

The trend in the number of units (candidate genes, constructs or genetic events) being subjected to screening in order to develop one trait is increasing from a mean of 1,638 for an event introduced before 2002, to 6,204 for an event introduced between 2008 and 2012. The survey also demonstrated increasing efficiency by the industry with fewer events in the production & selection stage (Stage IV) for the events commercialized in 2008-2012 compared to events introduced before 2002.

Activity Stage

Event introduced before 2002

Event introduced between 2008-2012

I Early Discovery



II Late Discovery



III Construct Optimization



IV Commercial Event Production & Selection



V Introgression Breeding & Wide-Area Testing



VI Regulatory Science



VII Registration & Regulatory Affairs




Genetically Modified Seed Central in Saik’s Agricultural Manifesto

By Clet Wandui MASIGA, A conservation Biologist, Geneticist and Farm Entrepreneur


Hype, misinformation, and twisting of facts have been used to deny farmers in developed countries access to genetically engineered (GE) seed for farming. This has created fear towards GE crops, thus enabling organic food dealers to make more profits in North America and Western Europe. AGRI-TREND CEO Robert Saik makes these arguments and more in his Agriculture Manifesto (May 2014).

The 52 page book contains ten key drivers that will shape agriculture in the next decade. On September 3, 2015, the Cornell Alliance for Science hosted a lecture by Saik to twenty-five Global Leadership Fellows (myself included), communications champions from around the world focused on to enhancing their capacities for ensuring that farmers have access to scientific innovation. It’s hoped that this diverse group of champions from Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Ghana, Nigeria, Bangladesh, India, Philippines, Indonesia, and USA will build a global community of advocates in support of science and evidence-based decision-making.

Central in Saik’s lecture was that the future of agriculture could be genetically modified organisms, which he has re-baptized as genetically modified organic (GMO). He explained why GMOs have been resisted and continue to be. In his message, Saik suggests that commercial interests such as Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and Chipotle—grocery chains and restaurants that seem interested in pushing a mandate of anti-industrialization of agriculture onto consumers—have led to a great deal of suspicion about GMO technology. In other words, he argues that a non-science movement is closely related to money; the rise of “Big Organic” the back of fear and suspicion, not on science.

Due to misinformation, particularly by biosafety entrepreneurs, many countries have difficulties making decisions on whether or not to adopt use of GMOs in agriculture. In Uganda, some of these biosafety entrepreneurs include the Centre for Health, Human Rights and Development (CEHURD), Food Rights Alliance Uganda (FRA), the Southern and Eastern African Trade Negotiations Institute (SEATINI), and Action Aid Uganda. Their businesses thrive by attracting money from donors purposely to create fear that GMOs are not safe. They twist facts and provide many non-science references to deny farmers access to genetically modified (GM) seed that could have huge benefits for better crops and more healthy food.

GM seeds have the opportunity to provide many benefits to farmers. In Uganda GM maize seeds have been developed to tolerate drought and resist pests, GM cassava to resist diseases, GM sweet potatoes to resist pests and viruses, GM cotton to resist pests, and GM banana to resist pests and diseases. Denying farmers access to such technology deprives them of key input for production and makes farming more expensive.

The other nine key drivers in the agricultural manifesto are non-science, market, sensor technology, 3D printing, Robotics, water, precision agriculture, artificial intelligence, and data. This book is written to enable farmers, agribusiness communities, and consumers to stay informed about the future of agriculture. This book was an Amazon 2014 Best of Books.

It has taken developing countries more than 20 years to decide on whether or not to adopt GE seed and it’s therefore time for farmers to liberate themselves by demanding for access to GE seeds. Not all issues against GM seed are based on science.

The main set back of Saik’s book is that it’s self published and has not been reviewed by anyone independent and or experts in agriculture. As such it’s limited to his personal opinion.  There are no references cited which makes it difficult for anyone to access the quality of his publication. Nevertheless he does an excellent job in sharing his own personal opinion on the technologies for the future of agriculture.