Bananas are a dietary staple in eastern Africa. They are eaten raw, much like they are around the world, and they are eaten cooked (aka plantains). In Uganda, plantains are served much like mashed potatoes are in North America and Western Europe; the cooked variety is called matoke.
Australian researchers, backed by a substantial contribution from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, are preparing to start human trials on a genetically modified banana enriched with Vitamin A. According to Time magazine (30 Jun 14): “The new fruit could revolutionize child health care in the developing countries”:
- Problem: Vitamin A deficiency blinds some 300,000 children annually and is linked to the deaths of nearly 700,000 others. The problem is particularly acute in east Africa.
- Idea: The Australians developed banana variants with up to five times the usual Vitamin A.
- Pushback: Critics of the project warn that the long-term effects of genetically modified food remains unknown.
The research team behind the project will complete the human trials by the end of the 2014 and hopes to receive approval to grow bananas in Uganda by 2020. They add that their technology could also be applied to other crops.