MPs want biotechnology concept unpacked

By Agnes Nantambi

Added 15th December 2016 10:48 AM

Backers have been lobbying for a Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill to be passed into law.

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Dr Micheal Hillary Otim, a senior reseach officer and crop entomologist shows MPs how natural varieties of maize are being affected by the stem borer as compared to the genetically modified type. (Credit Agnes Nantambi)

Backers have been lobbying for a Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill to be passed into law.

Members of the Uganda Women Parliamentary Association (UWOPA) want scientists to unpack the bio-technology concept before seeking a law to regulate it.

Biotechnology involves removing genes from one organism to another with a view of making that organism better.

The legislators recently visited the Namulonge Crop Resource Research institute (NACRRI). While there, they said scientists have not designed better communication strategies to help the public understand the idea of GMOs.

"If we, the legislators, fail to conceptualize the idea properly due to the terminologies and the science in it, what about the farmers whom we represent?” wondered Samuel Okwi, Moroto County MP.

He said backers need to better design convincing information about the idea, adding that those opposed to biotechnology have come with better information.

"Coming here has helped me understand the concept but I am not fully convinced to take on the technology with two hands. I still believe that more information about GMO is needed and a clear difference between the GMOs and the hybrids,” said Okwi.


During the tour of a maize garden where technology is employed, the visiting lawmakers appreciated that genetically-modified crops are resistant to pests and diseases – compared to natural varieties – but insisted there is an information gap.

"We have learnt that not all crops are going to go GMO but a few which are not drought- or pest-resistant – which is okay,” said Margaret Babadri, who headed the team.

Backers have been lobbying for a Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill to be passed into law to regulate the use of GMOS in Uganda but the idea is facing resistance.

Babadri said that if government has spent money and a good product is got out of it, there is need to spread the gospel so that the law can be supported.

"They have already identified some GMOs which are very useful, but because of lack of the law, the seeds cannot be propagated for great production,” she said.

 Lira district Woman MP Atim Joy Ongom said that with the current food insecurity, if what the scientists are doing is the right thing that can improve status and welfare of the people, as long as they confirm that it is not harmful and destructive to the country, parliament should adopt it to safeguard its people.

On her part, Dr Babra Zawedde, coordinator of Uganda Bioscience Information Centre, said it’s unfair for Ugandans to consume GMOs brought into the country when local farmers are denied the chance to grow them due absence of a law.

She said with the current rampant climate change causing drought, pests and diseases, if GMOs are not embraced other catastrophes like famine will strike the country any time.

Titus Alicai, the programmes leader for Root Crops, clarified that before any gene is removed from an organism, the research has to be sanctioned by the National Biosafety Committee and the source of the gene to be introduced into a plant must be known.

"Under the ethics consideration, the gene from an animal will not be acceptable or those from an organism which can cause harm to the society.”

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