Uganda has got a good Biotechnology law that will allow the development of safe GMOs

By Clet Wandui Masiga

On Wednesday October 4th 2017, the 10th parliament of Uganda adopted the National Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill 2012 into Law. I was in parliament listening to all the issues debated and agreed upon. Henry Lutaaya of the Sunrise news paper interviewed me shortly after the passing of the Bill into Law. On overall Uganda has got a good law that will allow the development and commercialization of GMOs that are safe to the humans, biodiversity and environment. His article titled “What next after passing of the biosafety law?” is available at http://www.sunrise.ug/news/201710/what-next-after-passing-of-the-biosafety-law.html

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Petition to the 9th parliament of Uganda to Adopt the National Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill 2012 into Law

By Clet Wandui Masiga, Tropical Institute of Development Innovations (TRIDI)

Summary

Technology and innovations are critical to addressing some of the key challenges constraining agricultural production in Uganda. Biotechnology is one of the innovative tools that are used to increase production of agriculture. However in Uganda, there is no law that regulates its use, which is a requirement for countries signatories to Cartagena protocol on biosafety. The Uganda farmers and global community are requesting the Uganda’s 9th parliament to adopt the National Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill 2012 into Law. This petition http://bit.ly/1UxKCJd is sponsored by the Tropical Institute of Development Innovations (TRIDI) on behalf of Uganda Alliance for Science and all stakeholders involved in promoting the application of biotechnology. We are urging the members of 9th Parliament of Uganda to quickly pass this bill into Law before their end of term in May 2016. This will be the greatest gift the 9th Parliament will offer its voters before their term end. Sign petition available at http://bit.ly/1UxKCJd

Introduction

This petition is written to The Right Honorable Speaker of Parliament of Ugandawith copies to the President of Uganda; the Vice President; the Rt. Hon. Deputy Speaker; the Prime Minister; Minister of Education, Sport, Science & Technology; Minister of Agriculture, Animal Industry & Fisheries; Minister of Finance, Planning and Economic Development; State Minister of Finance for Planning; Minister of Water & Environment; State Minister for Higher Education & Technology; and all other ministers of Uganda.

The purpose of the petition is to request the Government of Uganda to adopt “The National Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill, 2012,” whose purpose is to ensure the safe development and use of modern biotechnology for national development. All the procedures to enact the Bill into law have been done.

The only step left is the final approval by Parliament. This law is needed to help farmers fight major challenges such as weeds, diseases, pests, drought, and nitrogen deficiency. 

The current issues agriculture biotech research is addressing in Uganda

In Uganda, farming is increasingly becoming non-competitive, expensive and unprofitable largely due to major challenges such as weeds, diseases, pests, drought and nitrogen deficiency. Modern agricultural practices will give farmers another and better option to control pests and diseases.

  • Weeds: Weeds are a major challenge to the production of staple food and cash crops such as maize, sorghum, soy beans, coffee etc. Responsible use of biotechnology, especially herbicide-tolerant crops, reduces backbreaking labor of farmers — especially women — who do most of the backbreaking work on farms such weeding using the hand-held hoe. Scientists have successfully developed herbicide-tolerant maize and soybeans. These have been grown for the last 20 years in many countries, and we only need the enabling law to regulate their development and deployment in Uganda.
  • Diseases: These are limiting production of both food and cash-crops in Uganda. For instance, Banana Bacterial Wilt (BBW), Fusarium Wilt, Black Sigatoka, Coffee Wilt, Cassava Brown Streak and Cassava Mosaic Diseases; Early/late Blight, Sweet Potato Weevils and Viruses, are continuously infecting all bananas, coffee, cassava, Irish and sweet potatoes respectively, across the country. These diseases cause huge income losses and food insecurity to the nation. NARO has used modern biotechnology to develop resistant/tolerant varieties of these affected crops, but these varieties are kept due to lack of an enabling law that will allow farmers to access these crops.
  • Drought: Every year, farmers experience losses in maize and other cereal crops production due to drought. Already scientists from NARO have used modern biotechnology to develop maize that is tolerant to drought using modern biotechnology. We will need this law if farmers are to benefit.
  • Pests: Weevils, nematodes, whiteflies, stem/stalk borers, coffee twig-borers, African cotton bollworms and fruit-flies are some of the key pests that are ravaging bananas, beans, cassava, maize, coffee, cotton, fruits—especially mangoes and pawpaws— respectively, in Uganda. We can use advanced scientific tools like modern biotechnology to develop resistant crops, fruits and trees to avoid using chemicals to spray pests which may also kill useful insects like bees, butterflies, as well. In turn, using less chemical sprays will help save our environment.
  • Climate Change: The increasing rise in temperatures due to Global Warming is affecting farming with unpredictable and prolonged dry spells, rainstorms and flooding. This is also negatively impacting on soils, rendering land unproductive due to massive erosions, and nutrient/fertility loss. NARO has used modern biotechnology to develop nitrogen-efficient, soil salinity-tolerant and water efficient crops like NEWEST-rice that grows in less fertile soils.

If farmers are to access the modern biotechnology crops named above, Uganda needs the National Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill passed into law to regulate and govern their deployment. This Bill is currently before Parliament and farmers call upon their legislators to pass the Bill for them to access these technologies and manage ever-growing farm challenges.

The President of Uganda has himself publicly urged members of Parliament to pass the Biosafety Bill.

Please sign the petition at http://bit.ly/1UxKCJd

and please help circulate widely within your networks.

 

Africa needs courageous leaders like the Catholic Priests to benefit from genetically modified Organisms (GMOs)

By Clet Wandui MASIGA

Conservation Biologist, Geneticist and Farm Entrepreneur

Email: wmasiga@hotmail.com

 

On Saturday December 5th, 2015 at the National Agricultural Research Laboratories (NARL) of the National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO), the Director CARITAS, Justice and peace, Archdiocese of Kampala Rev. Fr. Vicent Kisenyi Byansi together with Caritas farmers praised research on genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Rev. Fr. Vicent Kisenyi Byasi knelt down and openly apologized to his parishioners and participants who had attended a sensitization workshop on intensive livestock management, urban farming and biotechnology for having got duped/manipulated and misinformed about the science of genetic modification.

 

During the workshop, more than 70 farmer leaders and mobilisers from Caritas- Archdiocese of Kampala lauded the work GMOs and scientists in developing solutions to their farming challenges, including the use of genetic modification to address the dreadful banana bacteria wilt.

 

The catholic priest further urged the farmers and Ugandans to continue supporting the great work of scientists in finding solutions to some of their farming constraints. The leaders noted that a lot of mis-information had been spread by some people, including a few within Caritas, demonizing the work of the gallant scientists but they urged the scientists to continue the good work in championing the cause of farmers in the country. Fr Byansi particularly asked that those who led the mis-information to be forgiven by God. The workshop was organized by NARO in partnership with Caritas. The participants learnt of the available products of genetic modification in improving banana, cassava, maize, potato, sweet potato, and rice in Uganda. Participants also learnt on the potential risks with GM technology and how these risks are and must be managed using appropriate legislation as proposed in the National biotechnology and Biosafety Bill. Caritas farmer leaders, parishioners and its director pledged to fully support the need for the parliamentarians to adopt the bill.

 

He pledging his support for GMOs, Fr. Byasi re-echoed the words almost in almost exactly the same way as did Pope John Paul II in 2000 as part of the great jubilee celebrations. He stated that the famous words of Genesis entrust the earth to man’s use, not abuse.

 

Rev. Fr. Vicent Kisenyi Byasi is one of the first prominent leaders of the Catholic Church and Caritas Justice and Peace commission to openly declare support for GMOs. The Catholic-founded CARITAS is one of the key anti-GMO groups in Uganda and globally. This was a historic undertaking by our Catholic leadership and parishioners who also learnt DNA technology is used to create new crop varieties for the benefit of human kind.  They acknowledged that they had been misled by organic promoters and anti-GMO activists and expressed support for GMOs to solve some of challenges they face in their daily farming activities. They said that non of anti-GMO activists, soil scientists, organists or organic promoters, pseudo-scientists and some misled priests, are not solving nor even attempting to solve serious crop pests, diseases and abiotic stresses.

 

The participants disclosed that there is an organic promoter who works with anti-GMO activists and has been selling farmers a fake anti-chemical claiming it controls banana bacterial wilt disease. This crooked business man had in addition been very successful in misleading the Catholic Church in particular CARITAS to mobilize its members and farmers, to be trained on the use and adoption of his concoction which NARO recently discovered on testing to be a mere combination of fertilizers and some unknown formulation. The crook was even telling lies that he had gotten approval of NARO which was not true.

 

The Catholic priest asked the parishioners to be sharp-eyed not to be duped by anti-GMO activists who are not specialists in plant breeding, nor do not possess any scientific standing, as to oppose genetic engineering. He said he has a personal firm belief that GM-technology presents immense opportunities for farmers to benefit from.

 

I take this opportunity to thank Rev. Fr. Vicent Kisenyi Byasi and the Parishioners of the Archidiocese of Kampala for taking this courageous position in leading the church to adopt the GMOs whose safety and benefits has been proven over nearly the past two decades in countries with more than half of the world’s population. Other religious leaders and priests should emulate this catholic priest and help our people have access to this modern technology to make their farming competitive and profitable. This will also lead to increased productivity of farm products for food, fuel, fibre and feed.

 

According to Wikipedia, in 1999, after two years of discussions, the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life stated that modifying the genes of plants and animals is theologically acceptable. The Guardian reported that “Bishop Elio Sgreccia, vice- president of the pontifical academy, said: ‘We are increasingly encouraged that the advantages of genetic engineering of plants and animals are greater than the risks. The risks should be carefully followed through openness, analysis and controls, but without a sense of alarm.’ Referring to genetically modified products such as corn and soya, Sgreccia added: ‘We give it a prudent ‘yes’ We cannot agree with the position of some groups that say it is against the will of God to meddle with the genetic make-up of plants and animals.'”

 

In 2000 as part of the Great Jubilee Pope John Paul II gave an address concerning agriculture, at which he said: The “famous words of Genesis entrust the earth to man’s use, not abuse. They do not make man the absolute arbiter of the earth’s governance, but the Creator’s “co-worker”: a stupendous mission, but one which is also marked by precise boundaries that can never be transgressed with impunity. This is a principle to be remembered in agricultural production itself, whenever there is a question of its advance through the application of biotechnologies, which cannot be evaluated solely on the basis of immediate economic interests. They must be submitted beforehand to rigorous scientific and ethical examination, to prevent them from becoming disastrous for human health and the future of the earth.

 

A 2002 meeting between bishops and scientists in the Philippines concluded that biotechnology could be an important stepping stone in the struggle against hunger and environmental pollution.

 

A 2003 symposium gathered by Cardinal Renato T. Martino has examined the use of GMOs in modern agriculture. The symposium’s study argued that the future of humanity is at stake and that there is no room for the ideological arguments advanced by environmentalists. Velasio De Paolis, a professor of canon law at the Pontifical Urban University, has said that it was “easy to say no to GM food if your stomach is full”.

A 2009 study on genetically modified organisms sponsored by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences came to a favorable conclusion on GMOs, viewing them as praiseworthy for improving the lives of the poor.

This year (2015), Pope Francis wrote and released the Encyclical Letter.  The letter suggests the need for a scientific-evidence-based decision-making in advancement of a modern agriculture that offers food, nutrition and income security.  He also seems to respects scientists’ right to protect their intellectual property [IP] from the works of their hands and brains, just as Arts-professionals or artisans do copy right their works (literary works, music, art, dance, drama, comedy, books e.t.c).

Quote: “If an artist cannot be stopped from using his or her creativity, neither should those who possess particular gifts for the advancement of science and technology be prevented from using their God-given talents for the service of others”

 

The detailed key excerpts are:

New biological technologies………..

 

  1. In the philosophical and theological vision of the human being and of creation which I have presented, it is clear that the human person, endowed with reason and knowledge, is not an external factor to be excluded. While human intervention on plants and animals is permissible when it pertains to the necessities of human life, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that experimentation on animals is morally acceptable only “if it remains within reasonable limits [and] contributes to caring for or saving human lives”.[106]The Catechism firmly states that human power has limits and that “it is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly”.[107]All such use and experimentation “requires a religious respect for the integrity of creation”.[108]

 

  1. Here I would recall the balanced position of Saint John Paul II, who stressed the benefits of scientific and technological progress as evidence of “the nobility of the human vocation to participate responsibly in God’s creative action”, while also noting that “we cannot interfere in one area of the ecosystem without paying due attention to the consequences of such interference in other areas”.[109]He made it clear that the Church values the benefits which result “from the study and applications of molecular biology, supplemented by other disciplines such as genetics, and its technological application in agriculture and industry”.[110]But he also pointed out that this should not lead to “indiscriminate genetic manipulation”[111] which ignores the negative effects of such interventions. Human creativity cannot be suppressed. If an artist cannot be stopped from using his or her creativity, neither should those who possess particular gifts for the advancement of science and technology be prevented from using their God-given talents for the service of others. We need constantly to rethink the goals, effects, overall context and ethical limits of this human activity, which is a form of power involving considerable risks.

 

  1. This, then, is the correct framework for any reflection concerning human intervention on plants and animals, which at present includes genetic manipulation by biotechnology for the sake of exploiting the potential present in material reality. The respect owed by faith to reason calls for close attention to what the biological sciences, through research uninfluenced by economic interests, can teach us about biological structures, their possibilities and their mutations. Any legitimate intervention will act on nature only in order “to favour its development in its own line, that of creation, as intended by God”.[112]

 

  1. It is difficult to make a general judgement about genetic modification (GM), whether vegetable or animal, medical or agricultural, since these vary greatly among themselves and call for specific considerations. The risks involved are not always due to the techniques used, but rather to their improper or excessive application. Genetic mutations, in fact, have often been, and continue to be, caused by nature itself. Nor are mutations caused by human intervention a modern phenomenon. The domestication of animals, the crossbreeding of species and other older and universally accepted practices can be mentioned as examples. We need but recall that scientific developments in GM cereals began with the observation of natural bacteria which spontaneously modified plant genomes. In nature, however, this process is slow and cannot be compared to the fast pace induced by contemporary technological advances, even when the latter build upon several centuries of scientific progress.

 

In conclusion, GMOs continue to benefit farmers in countries where half of the word population lives. However, there continues to be a lot of misinformation about GMOs. We need courageous leaders like Rev. Fr. Vicent Kisenyi Byasi to take broad decisions to support use of this GMOs to benefit humanity.

My personal story on involvement in GMO promotion

My name is Clet Wandui Masiga and I am a Conservation Biologist, Geneticist, and farm entrepreneur from Uganda. Currently I work as a research scientist at the Tropical Institute of Development Innovations (TRIDI) and am a Cornell Alliance for Science Fellow. My wife Sylvia and I have four sons. She is a social worker and an administrator with an organization that provides food supplements to families that are suffering from malnutrition.

My involvement in promoting for access to biotechnology and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) evolved naturally when I started my career. I have worked as a teacher, as an extension officer, and I continue to practice as a researcher and development worker as well as a part time farmer with my wife. We started farming because we wanted other farmers who were not exposed and were not knowledgeable to learn from us, in order to also do the same to improve their productivity.

As a conservationist and Geneticist I had learned about the evolution of breeding techniques and origin of domestications of plants and animals. I had also been trained in sustainable conservation and utilization of genetic resources for food and agriculture. I spent part of my life working in a genebank in the UK, which involved going out to the field and collecting plants for conservation and researching on them to benefit farmers and breeders.

When I returned to Uganda in January 2009, I decided to concentrate on my farm; however, that year there was a lot of drought. My tomatoes and Maize were completely lost, and my cassava was destroyed by cassava brown streak disease. We lost all our investments and in the same period my dad succumbed to cancer of the esophagus and passed on. I decided to seek employment first to earn a living, but most importantly I wanted a job that could help me develop new crop varieties in response to some of the challenges that I had faced as a farmer. That year, people in Uganda died due to lack of food from the drought; I thought God had failed my crops so I could help farmers.

I’ve been fortunate in that all my biotechnology and breeding work had been done under public institutions. We developed GM maize and Sorghum for drought tolerance and cassava for resistance to cassava brown streak disease resistance under National agricultural research Institutes. All the other biotechnological approaches that we used such as Marker Assisted Breeding, tissue culture, conservation biotechnology and gene mapping and isolation of genes were also under public institution. I have also developed non-GM sorghum lines for drought tolerance and striga resistance under my private organization, but the varieties are yet to be released.

While we were busy working on solving farmer’s problems, some people kept writing misinformation about GMOs and their promoters in newspapers. I also listen to misinformation on TVs and Radio talk shows. This is the time I decided that I should start providing first hand information on GMOs, since I was also developing them. I had an advantage in that I was not only developing GMOs but I was also using other approaches to solve farmer’s problems. I believe in integrated approaches and an approach that delivers a solution is acceptable to me.

One of my biggest challenges has been my fellow scientists who have chosen to ignore debating with anti-GMO activists. This has provided a platform for the anti-GMO activists to continue misinforming the public and denying farmers the technologies that they need most. I believe that unless we get out of the laboratories and talk to the population, our farmers will continue to suffer due to misinformation. Every field is using scientific innovation to advance and there should be no exception in plant breeding.

 

Clet Wandui Masiga

Conservation Biologist, Geneticist and Farm Entrepreneur.

 

UGANDAN PRESIDENT BLAMES WIDESPREAD IGNORANCE OF MPS FOR ABSENCE OF BIOSAFETY LAW

By Peter Wamboga Mugirya
 

Ugandan President, Gen. Yoweri Museveni has blamed the failure of his country’s Parliament to pass the decade-old-National Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill into law, on widespread ignorance among most legislators.

He says the ignorant MPs–largely elected from villages and remote rural areas–cannot fully appreciate the power of modern science of biotechnology.

This, the Ugandan Head of State explained, has led to the stalling of the Bill, yet it is aimed at providing a conducive regulatory regime for commercialization of GM-crops developed by the State-run National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO).
The Ugandan head of state was speaking at the World Food Day national event October 16, held at a NARO Tea research and development institute. It is located at Rwebitaba on the foothills of the beautiful Mountains of the Moon (Rwenzoris) in western Uganda.
He said most legislators — a majority of whom surprisingly belong to his ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) Party — cannot comprehend genetic engineering for being useful in imparting resistance to drought, resistance to virulent pests and diseases [challenges farmers are grappling with in crops]. “The MPs are from villages and do not understand such sophisticated science as biotechnology; that’so why they fear it,” said Museveni.
The President told the large gathering including representatives of the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP), that while Ugandan scientists have used biotechnology to develop a wide range of maize, cassava, banana, sorghum and millet varieties with good attributes of high yields, pests and disease-resistance, the Parliament has failed to provide an enabling law to regulate and release GM crops.

“We have been training such a large number of scientists and today they are able to develop and process anything…… First, the human resource in terms of scientists is there; secondly, the innovation fund is there but not yet enough to cover all scientists; thirdly improved seedlings and improved seeds I’m very happy, our scientists have developed them; today we have improved seeds for maize, millet, and for coffee. They even have used biotechnology to produce better seeds; but my MPs who need to modernise their thinking have failed to pass the biotechnology law; they have frustrated my scientists; you can hear them [scientists] expressing frustrations over there…….!” the largely jovial President said, amusing the audience and receiving applause from the scientists.

Tell people to stop spreading fear about biotechnology, he further said, adding that members of Parliament have refused to pass the Bill. they fear biotechnology for no good reason; but biotechnology is used to impart certain qualities; I don’t know what they fear; … for me I don’t think there’s no reason to fear!”

Speaking in the local dialect widely spoken in the area, the President said: …”The scientists used biotechnology to add something that imparts a special power to the seed; so the technology is good, useful and is available!

This open support for biotechnology is the first in a long time the Uganda leader has made publicly. However, he is a renowned strong supporter of science, technology and innovations.

He added that Ugandan scientists have solved many of the country’s problems, so we must pay them well to ensure they are stable and work harder.”Please my ministers and MPs, I need you to support my push to pay well our scientists. Some people have discouraged it, demanding that we democratise poor pay…. But for me I don’t mind if my pay is lower than that of our scientists, I’d be very happy if they earn much more than they do today,” he stressed.

It is not the first time the Uganda leader alluded to improving salary   payment and other emolments to scientists, to boost their morale, so as to sustain their momentum of hard work.

Earlier, the Agriculture Minister, Tress Bucyanayandi had reported that Uganda was food secure, save for a “few pockets of food insufficiency or shortages due to poor yields as a result of prolonged drought” in some parts of the country. He thanked FAO, WFP and Oxfam for supporting uganda’s agricuultural sector, via technical and financial assistance, in addition to providing guidance to farmer adaptation to climate change.

 

Report adapted from excerpts from the NBSTV live coverage of the event.

Thank you.

Monsanto vs. Freedom of Information Act

By Clet Wandui Masiga, Conservation biologist, Geneticist, and Farm Entreprenuer

Ralph Nader examines Monsanto Vs. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). In his piece Nader reviews the history of FOIA and It is a vital investigative tool for exposing government and corporate wrongdoing. Ant-GMO activists are using it to expose public publics with ties to multinational businesses in agro input producers and manufacturer. Am personally concerned that this act is being misused and may have significant negative consequences for developing countries where a majority go without food. Details of Ralph Nader article is available at http://ecowatch.com/2015/10/05/ralph-nader-monsanto-foia/