Biotech Law Guarantees Uganda’s Interests In Regional Setup


visit sans-serif; font-size: 10pt; line-height: 200%;”>Uganda is a senior member of the East African Community (EAC) and Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), for sale in which economic blocs some member states have embraced biotechnology for agricultural production, industrial use and drug manufacture although for us we only apply biotech for the last two functions.

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For agriculture, the technology is still at research stage and for it to be released scientists are demanding the enactment of an enabling law.

So, the controversy majorly surrounds use of biotechnology for crop planting also known as Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).

Anti-biotech activists argue that a biotech law is not necessary because the country doesn’t need genetically engineered crops.

In fact our Members of Parliament are being blackmailed to reject the Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill meant to regulate the general use of the technology and its safety.

The antis argue that Uganda has comparative advantage in organic farming. And, supplemented with conventional methods, the country has potential to become a regional food basket.

That is a sound argument but not in today’s world where population is outcompeting capacity to produce food.

Organic farming does not allow the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, so how many farmers in Uganda do still practice it as an income generating activity? Can organic farming single-handedly make us a food basket?

If you look at the situation without prejudice, much of the debate, both in terms of anti-biotech and organic, is simply based on the naturalistic fallacy – the belief that natural is good, and artificial is bad.

Also the argument that alternatively government restricts investment to conventional plant breeding is being shortsightedness.

Through conventional breeding scientists are unable to develop a variety with the exact traits they want in a short period of research.

But genetic engineering can create a variety of any choice and is the most appropriate for creating resistant varieties for crops attacked by viral diseases.

For instance, in Buganda, one of the main banana growing regions, banana Xanthomonas wilt (BXW) attacks up to 80 per cent of farms, sometimes wiping out entire fields.

To get rid of BXW, it is necessary to dig up and burn the affected plants, disinfect all machinery and tools and allow the ground to lie fallow for six months before replanting. This has made small-scale farmers to switch to other crops.

Fortunately, Ugandan scientists have successfully created a GM banana using genes from sweet pepper that helps to control Xanthomonas.

We should also appreciate that we are now living in a global village where GM technology is bound to spread to Uganda. Therefore our argument should be how to get the best out of that technology rather than dwell on rejecting that modern science altogether.

And this can only be done by having an enabling law in place. How is it possible to prevent GMOs from spreading to Uganda if already we are surrounded by countries that have embraced them?

For example, Kenya is one of the pioneer African countries to enact a Biosafety law that regulates GMO development, import, export and transit.

In Tanzania, research on GM crops is at advanced stage. Rwanda is also picking up. In Sudan, unofficial information indicates that GM crops are planted even without a law.

COMESA has also recognized commercial planting, trade and emergency food aid of GMOs, and has instituted a biosafety risk assessment mechanism.

The EAC is also discussing to come up with a common policy for member states that will probably guide the enactment of a regional piece of legislation by the East African Assembly.

So as we debate whether or not to enact a GMO law we should be mindful of regional positions and their implication.

The writer is CEO, Press4EAC and a fellow of Biosciences for Farming in Africa (B4FA)


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