By Christopher Bendana
Vice President Edward Kiwaunka Sekandi has called upon Parliament to pass the Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill 2012.
The Bill in meant to provide a regulatory framework to ensure safety in research and development of modern biotechnology in Uganda.
This was at the opening of the second Biennial National Agricultural Biosciences Conference at the School of Food Science, Nutrition and Bioengineering at Makerere University on Monday.
In his speech read by Mathias Kasamba the chairperson of the Agriculture Committee and MP, Kakuuto, Rakai district Sekandi said that genetic engineering; a modern type of biotechnology had provided benefits to countries like Burkina Faso and Argentina.
Burkina Faso is growing genetic engineered bt cotton, while Argentina has a host of crops from maize and soya. The crops are high yielding and resistant to pests and diseases.
“For Uganda to maximally but safely benefit from it too, we need the proposed law to be passed by Parliament such that we regulate what benefits we want from it and leave out what we do not want as a country,” he said.
The technology has helped in breeding crop varieties that are resistant to pests and diseases, crops that are tolerant to drought and floods, and enhanced nutrition value of Uganda’s staple.
There is transfer of genes of interest among species and even from different species.
For instance breeders at the National Crops Resources Research Institute, Namulonge have successfully bred a cassava variety resistant to the virulent Cassava Brown Streak Disease using this technology.
Also at the National Agricultural Research Laboratories, Kawanda breeders have bred a banana variety resistant to Banana Bacteria Wilt.
The varieties await the passing of the Bill before they can be released to the farmers.
The Bill has for some time faced strong opposition from the civil societies who say it will kill the traditional seed system where farmers saved seed. They add that this will make the small scale farmer a slave of the international companies.
In 2013 Rebecca Kadaga, the speaker of Parliament sent MPs to consult their constituent on the bill. It has since become a hot potatoe.
Arthur Makara, executive director at the Science Foundation for Livelihood and development, the organizer of the conference thanked the vice president for the call and said the bill needed to be passed now.
Prof. Diran Makinde, the director, African Biosafety Network of Expertise at the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) of the African Union said the bill needed to be passed to help scientist leave the current vacuum they are working from.
The conference that started Monday ends on Wednesday. The participants include farmers, academic, and researchers from research institutes from across the country.
The country has an obligation under the Cartagena Protocol to pass legislation on bio safety.