By Gerald Tenywa
PRESIDENT Yoweri Museveni has allowed the importation of non-contestable forms of Genetically-Modified Organisms (GMOs).
He said foods that have been processed could be brought into the country because they cannot contaminate native plants.
GMO plants or animals contain genes which have been artificially. The highly contestable GMOs include living organisms such as seeds or plants that could alter native plants through cross-pollination.
Museveni was presiding over the launch of a multi-million-biotech lab at the Kawanda Research Institute last Saturday.
Museveni, who was speaking publicly about the controversial GMOs for the first time, said studies and debate on the living GMOs should go ahead.
He said experts should isolate characters from wild plants through biotechnology (manipulation of genes) to make crops with high yields and disease resistance.
He cited clonal coffee, which gives five times as much yield as the traditional coffee, as a break-through which has increased production and incomes of farmers.
Kisamba Mugerwa, the Minister of Agriculture, said commercial releases of GMOs had become controversial because of their potential risks.
Mugerwa said biotechnology would enhance food security, especially in the poor countries.
He said there were suspicions that biotechnology applications had potential threats to bio-diversity.
Museveni said George Bush, the US president, had urged him to take on GMOs during his visit.
Museveni said he pointed out to Bush that he had to study the GMOs more before he took a position.
â€œI am now fully moblised to accept biotechnology,â€™â€™ Museveni said amid applause from the staff of the National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO).
Museveni lauded NARO for making over 600 crop varieties including sorghum, which has replaced barley in the making of beer.
But he warned against abuse of biotechnology, saying the Government was against GMOs becoming a problem.
Mugerwa said the Government was in the process of formulating a policy to regulate biotechnology and address biosafety concerns.
Mugerwa, while quoting Maxwell Mauder, a researcher, said genetically modified crops, which cover 52.6 million hectares of land globally, were fast becoming a major component of agriculture.
â€œThe reality is that biotechnology cannot be wished away or ignored,â€™â€™ Mugerwa said.
Prof. Kayanja, the NARO chief, said research would dispel the fears about bio-technology.