Uganda’s Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, Elioda Tumwesigye has said Uganda should embrace science and innovation for faster economic transformation of Uganda.
Tumwesigye said it is surprising that Uganda and other African countries are still debating Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) yet countries like America had the debate many years ago and have since advanced.
“GMO debate was in the US 20 years ago. They are now talking about genetic editing,” Tumwesigye said, adding: “Uganda is better off with the [GMO] law than without. We want to protect our people.”
The minister made the remarks on Friday at Fairway Hotel, Kampala while opening a one day training workshop for journalists on Science Communication.
It was organized by Science Foundation for Livelihoods and Development (SCIFODE) in collaboration with the National Crops Research Institute (NaCRRI), of National Agricultural Research Organization.
Tumwesigye noted that science has advanced so much including genetic engineering of human cells that it can’t be ignored.
He added that people are set to live longer because of advancement in health science.
“If Africa can embrace science, we can achieve what we want [faster economic development]. Let’s use the technology as long as it is deemed safe,” he said, adding that his ministry is committed to building the science sector including supporting the controversial National Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill, 2012 also referred to as GMO Bill.
It should be noted that the Minister re-tabled the Bill on the floor of Parliament on Thursday after President Yoweri Museveni declined to sign the Bill into law.
On December21, 2017, President Museveni declined to assent to the Bill and wrote to the Speaker, asking Parliament to clarify on the title of the Bill, patent rights of indigenous farmers and sanctions for scientists who mix GMOs with indigenous crops and animals before he signs the Bill. The Bill is expected to be returned to the committee on Science and Technology for review especially on issues raised by the President.
Minister Tumwesigye noted that many Ugandans don’t have an idea about GMOs and the Bill, revealing that whenever they see something big including hybrids, they call them GMOs yet Uganda doesn’t have them yet.
Arthur Makara, the Executive Director at Science Foundation for Livelihoods & Development noted that some of the issues raised by the President like preservation of indigenous crops and animals are already being catered for.
He noted that there’s a genes bank for indigenous crops in Entebbe, adding that GMOs have no harm to non-GMO crops and animals.
In a June 2017 report, Members of Parliament on the Committee on Science and Technology explained why the National Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill 2012 should be passed into law as soon as possible.
Importantly, a Genetically Modified Organism, or GMO, is an organism that has had its DNA altered or modified in some way through genetic engineering. In most cases, GMOs have been altered with DNA from another organism, be it a bacterium, plant, virus or animal; these organisms are sometimes referred to as “transgenic” organisms.
The Government of Uganda through the National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO), is already in advanced stages, conducting research on crop plants produced through modern biotechnology in order to come up with products that overcome chronic problems such as insect and disease epidemics, drought stress and malnutrition.
However, a law is required to provide for the safe development and release of the improved varieties resulting from biotechnology farmers
The report explains that many farmers in African countries and partners are already using products of modern biotechnology, thus the need to pass the law.
“Furthermore, Uganda’s boarders are porous, hence necessitating a law to guide access and use of such products,” the report reads, adding that in a free market economy like Uganda, products are imported into the country from various parts of the world.
“Some of these imported products contain GMO materials that may or may not be clearly indicated. There is need to provide for identification of GM content in such products to give Ugandans an opportunity to choose to use or not to use GMO products,” the report explains.
It adds that on a global perspective, the biggest challenges are how to adapt the production of food in view of the climate changes; and how to develop further the role of agricultural biotechnology in combating the global challenge.
“Crop varieties that are more resilient to drought, flooding, saline, or acid soils and temperature extremes resulting for climate change may be needed, and adaptation-related technologies, including biotechnology may play their part,” the report says.
Those opposed to GMOs say they have numerous health, soil and environmental problems.