Barbara Zawedde

As her country, Uganda, moves closer to taking genetically modified crops from research labs to farm fields, Barbara Zawedde is working to develop a resource African regulators can use to assess the associated risks.

“Right now we have a lot of work going on to introduce transgenic crops in Africa, but we have limited capacity for risk assessment,” she said.

Zawedde, a doctoral student in Horticulture and ESPP, is interested in the impacts of potential gene flow from one plant population to another. For example, if pollen from a plant that’s been modified to tolerate drought mingles with unmodified relatives that usually die in the dry season, the unintentionally altered plants could survive year-round, become widespread and compete with other native species.

She’s also interested in farming practices relevant to Africa that can reduce the negative impacts of climate change. “People say that GM crops will help with drought or diseases,” she said. “OK, but what are the alternatives?”

Zawedde earned a bachelor’s degree in agriculture and a master’s in integrated pest management from Makerere University in Uganda. She spent last year as a visiting scholar at MSU’s Institute of International Agriculture, and decided to stay in East Lansing for her doctoral work.

She chose to specialize in environmental science and policy because she “wanted to get a good understanding of environmental systems, how they interact and how transgenic crops can impact them.”

As for her interest in agriculture, Zawedde says it’s part of who she is.

“I’d say 80 percent of the people in Uganda are involved in agriculture in one way or another,” she said. “It’s our livelihood.”