During the recent sensitization workshop on members of parliament on biotechnology use in agriculture at parliament, the biotechnology scientists appealed to the law makers to urgently pass the proposed national biotechnology and bio safety bill so that the approved GMO varieties can immediately be
By Ronald Kamugira
trueDuring the recent sensitization workshop on members of parliament on biotechnology use in agriculture at parliament, the biotechnology scientists appealed to the law makers to urgently pass the proposed national biotechnology and bio safety bill so that the approved GMO varieties can immediately be unleashed to farmers.
As Ugandan farmer, who contribute to the nourishing of millions of Ugandans and other food export markets, I feel the demands by scientists to pass this bill premature and not deserving a rushed approval since consultations on the bill by MPS is still in the pipeline. Unfortunately, there are two worrying cases, one is that GM crops have already been approved by scientists and have since penetrated our agriculture production systems without any regulating law in place. The second difficulty is the lack of knowledge on this sensitive matter by both our MPs and the wider public which again calls for more time for inclusive research and consultations.
The bill has not been given enough coverage and public sensitization like any other previous government bills raising concern on the future of Uganda’s agriculture sector that holistically nourishes Ugandans and contributes to the growth margins of our economy. Passing the bill at this time will violate the article 1 of the Cartagena protocol on bio safety which calls for thorough public consultation on the introduction of GMOs in any country. This is because GM crop yields are highly variable and many countries simply want to avoid eating foods designed in laboratories.
The bill is no doubt the most sophisticated bill that requires diligent and comprehensive research to ensure safe and sustainable agriculture systems as well as food security to Ugandans. Any manipulation in this bill could misguide the entire agriculture supply chains creating breeding grounds for hunger, diseases and endless dependency on food aid.
Advocates of this technology have persistently expressed how genetically engineered crops will help Uganda’s agriculture sector by improving productivity and food security whilst the assurance on its negativity is hardly brought to our attention.
The effects of long-term human exposure to a diet of mostly GM food have never been scientifically researched. Therefore, any potential problems could be aggravated in a population of Ugandans with compromised immune systems caused by HIV/ AIDS.
Some of the well known hazards of this technology include but not limited to extinction of Uganda’s indigenous seed varieties causing food shortages among local farmers. Genetically modified crops will also increase dependency on Agro-Industry forcing farmers to buy expensive patented seeds and toxic pesticides like glyphosate also known as ‘round up’ as well as fertilizers that will increase pollution levels. Such situations could worsen our already vulnerable eco systems and increase food prices to meet costs of production.
Another potential penalty of GMs is that by adopting biotechnology crops, Uganda’s chances of penetrating international export markets will be jeopardised since most international food markets mostly in Europe and regional Africa prefer GM free food citing GMOs health concerns. Such actions could jeorpadise Uganda’s opportunity to explore international lucrative markets which can aggravate poverty amongst Ugandans whose lives depend on agriculture. Currently, European Union accounts for Uganda’s largest food market export share.
A relevant incident was recorded in Thailand in 2004 where papaya trees, contaminated with Genetically Modified papaya from a local research station were found to be growing in farmers' fields in Thailand. The controversy became big news as importers of papaya threatened to stop all imports of Thai papaya forcing the government of Thailand to destroy the entire papaya crop. This papaya scandal in Thailand is at the same time a good example of field trials of GM crops carried out in secrecy by GMO scientists resulting in the contamination of indigenous non-GM production. A number of European countries such as France, Spain and parts of India have destroyed GMO fields citing similar reasons.
Therefore the existing stratagem for biotechnology and bio safety bill in Uganda will continue raising suspicions among Ugandan agriculture stake holders as long as the safety and long term results of the bio engineering business is not scientifically addressed. GMO organisms may in future be difficult to contain, which could be extremely hard to get rid of if we later realise they are a bad idea. The existing food biotechnology engineering in Uganda should cease until the public is educated about the whole science behind GMOs. This should be emphasized since the technology being created affects all Ugandans.
Several researchers and experts have recommended other approaches of hunger elimination in Africa but huge capital funding and investment has been sidelined to bio engineering as the best solution to Uganda and Africa in general undermining the existing highly certified organic productions in Africa. Therefore Ugandan government should rethink their position on the future of GMO’s into our farming systems noting that the technology is being avoided in many nations.
The writer is a member Agri - Hub Uganda
GMOs dominion and the future of Uganda’s Agriculture systems