“The progress or hindrance of this technology depends much on the model used for regulating it."
The Uganda National Council of Science and Technology (UNCST) has called on government agencies to join then in the regulation of technologies like biotechnology.
Once they agree, they will be working with the council under a distribution agency model, because it involves working with government agencies already established with clear mandates of regulation.
The call was made by the assistant executive secretary of the Uganda National council for Science and Technology (UNCST), Julius Ecuru, while presenting different models through which biotechnology can be regulated once embraced by Ugandans.
This was during a monthly Open Forum on Agriculture Biotechnology in Uganda (OFAB) in which the council meets different stakeholders to discuss progress in science and technologies at Imperial Royal Hotel.
“The progress or hindrance of this technology depends much on the model used for regulating it. If you choose a model that is going to deter progress, you will have killed all initiative in biotechnology and this will deny many people the benefits of the technology and we shall lag behind as a country," said Ecuru.
He added that with a model that ensures proper risk analysis and makes sure that whatever product or activity that is being produced has negligible risk to the environment and human health, the country will make progress.
"So why we need to lobby now is because it's very critical to determine how we next progress with the gene technology and the products already under development. That is why we need to discuss as stakeholders very openly on the best model that suits our circumstances.”
Fr. Byansi listens to Dr. Kiggundu, the head of the biotechnology lab at Kawanda, on how the technology works. (Credit: Prossy Nandudu)
The challenge with the existing model is that it's restricted to research and product development. But what is needed is to go beyond research and product development like commercialization, added the executive secretary.
"We need to agree on the law that is being discussed to clearly state who makes the decision. UNCST currently oversees the experiments in lab, confined fields but cannot make a decision to commercialize such products.”
Some of the government agencies that the councils could work with if approved by the law which is still a bill in parliament include the Uganda National Bureau of standards (UNBS), National Drug Authority (NDA), ministry of agriculture, environment ministry , among others.
The environment ministry will regulate those crops that relate directly with the environment like genetically-modified cassava.
When it comes to issues to do with food, UNBS and the NDA will be called on, and for crops and plants, the agriculture ministry will come in and other relevant agencies in the GM value chain.
Other models like having an autonomous agency to regulate the technology means will involve the use of money, amounting to sh12bn to run an agency, added Dr. Theresa Sengooba, the chairperson of UNCST.
She added that currently, the bill that will give way to the model is still in parliament. When it comes up for discussion, key issues of discussion will be the model to be adopted in addition to discussing the pros and cons of the model.