trueBy Isaac Ongu
Uganda is becoming a coveted country in Africa where genetic engineering works take place as was evidenced recently when a high powered delegation of members of parliament, permanent secretaries, directors, researchers and journalists from Tanzania, led by the environment minister, Dr. Binilith Satano Mahenge visited Uganda to learn more about biotechnology and biosafety environment in Uganda.
They were hosted by the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal industry and Fisheries (MAAIF), National Council of Science and Technology (UNCST), and National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO).
NARO through its institutes like National Crops Resources Research Institute (NaCRRI) in Namulonge and National Agricultural Research Laboratories (NARL) in Kawanda are at the forefront and advanced in the region carrying out several researches using modern biotechnology approach.
These researches are: Resistance to one of the deadliest crop diseases in the world the cassava brown streak disease; improving rice to tolerate low levels of water and nitrogen; developing drought tolerant and insect resistant maize; developing banana varieties resistant to bacterial wilt and Black sigatoka; developing sweet potatoes resistant to weevils; and enhancing beta-carotene in both the cooking and sweet banana.
The Tanzanian delegation was among others that have visited Uganda either for training or for seeing-is-believing excursion. It is commonly said, Uganda has good policies that are implemented better elsewhere.
This was evidenced at the excitement of the visiting Tanzanians when they met seasoned senior scientists from Uganda who explained to them the basics of modern biotechnology and its role in addressing common agricultural challenges in the two countries.
They were taken to laboratories and confined field trials in Namulonge and Kawanda. One after the other, the delegates declared they ‘saw light’ and had become ‘born again’ and would return home to ensure they are not left behind in the ‘gene revolution’. Tanzania has a biosafety law that is prohibitive and has kept them in the confines of their laboratories.
In Uganda, Members of Parliament are still consulting those who barely understand the basics of molecular science ignoring calls from scientists for a biosafety law to regulate and allow further progress to the various researches going on.
In the same week, NARO was holding a scientific conference at Munyonyo with the theme of linking science to society.
Unlike in the past, when researchers brought out their products and disseminated it through extension, these days, Civil society organization Activists are forcing scientists to come out of the laboratories and try to explain the complexities and the science behind breeding.
It’s like a hungry person who goes to a restaurant, orders for food and before he gets served, demands to enter the kitchen to ascertain the ingredients, the quantities and where those ingredients were brought from.
It’s a challenge to scientists to begin explaining complex molecular science to those with no science background or those who never went to school.
NARO should be applauded for putting Uganda on the map of modern science research and in training young scientists to replace those who are in leadership positions.
Government should provide more funds for Agricultural research; Parliament should enact necessary enabling laws like the biotechnology and biosafety law to allow progress of ongoing researches; and government should not yield to investors who show selfish interest in the land set aside for research or for education purposes as was reported last week in this paper that President leading by example, stopped the giveaway of Namulonge research land that an investor wanted for growing tomatoes.
The writer in an Agriculturist and consultant on Agricultural information and dissemination
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