There is growing unease among the scientific community across the country over the delayed review and repeal of a legal clause that holds everyone liable to punitive sanction should anything go wrong in the development and utilisation of agricultural biotechnology.
However, scientists and researchers interviewed believe that there is hope that even if a repeal of the strict liability clause in the 2004 NEM Act is delayed, the government would fund tissue culture in the 2014/2015 national budget to assist small-scale farmers fight vulnerabilities of their traditional crops in parts of the country.
During a visit by editors at the Mikocheni Agricultural Research Institute (MARI) biotechnology facility in Dar es Salaam over the weekend, scientists moved to call on the government to either fund tissue culture technology in the 2014/2015 financial budget or give a go-ahead to genetic engineering, as a way to save farmers from varieties vulnerable to diseases and drought.
Speaking at the event, a member of the National Biosafety Advisory Committee, Dr Roshan Abdallah and a Commission for Science and Technology official, said amending the 2004 NEM Act would help scientists get a go- with research into the safety of biotechnology.
She explained tissue culture, as a biotechnological tool which uses fragments of tissue from an animal or plant in a culture to multiply, change size, form, or function.
At the meeting, scientists urged the government to transfer banana tissue culture technology to small-scale farmers if they want to overcome the challenges that deteriorated the agriculture industry throughout 2014 as well as boosting productivity and production.
"If biotech rules review is delayed, tissue culture technology is the only option that, if exploited efficiently in the agricultural sector, could save commercial farming and hence boost the country's forex earnings," said Dr. Emmarold Mneney, MARI head of cashew biotechnology.
The technology is used for mass production of planting materials, production of virusfree plants, plant-breeding purposes, conservation, and multiplication of crops and livestock and has been tested by researchers at Sokoine University of Agriculture and Maruku Research Institute.
A Senior Research Officer with the Commission for Science and Technology, Dr Nicholas Edward, said if genetic engineering is delayed, then the government can fund tissue culture as a way of helping farmers. Dr Mneney said current socio- economic and environment challenges have impacted heavily on farmers, a situation which needs immediate solutions.
Speaking to the 'Daily News,' farmers in Kagera Region welcomed the government move to fund the new method of tissue culture, noting that their banana crops are currently under threat following attacks from banana wilt, which is affecting the livelihoods of residents who depend on bananas as their staple food and a source of income.
A councillor at Nyakatuntu village in Kyerwa District, Ms Hasanath Mzaiyana, said the disease, which started a few months ago, has already destroyed four acres of his banana farm. "We are worried because the disease, which is spreading fast through the air, has already caused hunger," she said.
"The disease is not going away and hunger is looming large in this area," she said. Mr Issa Chamani, a farmer from Kamuli village, said the disease had destroyed 15 acres, leading him to start cutting down the affected banana trees to protect the rest.
Another farmer, Mr Hamiru Ibrahim, said the banana disease had destroyed his five acres and his source of income because he depended solely on the crop. Mr Henerick Frederick had a similar experience as his 2.5 acres had also been destroyed.
In an interview, a University of Dar es Salaam don, Dr Lenny Kasonga, said food security was one of the main challenges in East Africa, where there was low food production due to changing weather conditions.
"There will be no more bananas in urban areas in the near future as a result of the banana bacterial wilt disease. "All crops, including cassava, seem to be affected by the disease which is affecting production," he said.
The Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives has throughout the year 2013 grappled with threats of declining food productivity in regions across the country, where traditional food crops have been attacked by diseases and drought.