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.

 

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.

It costs $136 million to discover, develop and commercialize a GMO

By Clet Wandui Masiga, Conservation Biologist, Geneticist and Farm Entrepreneur

It costs $136 million to discover, develop and commercialize GMOs having any specific trait. This cost represents money spent on staff, equipment and laboratory supplies, and   the regulatory testing and registration process. The time taken is about 13 years. Much of this time which is about 5.5 years is regulatory and registration.

Below is information I obtained at crop life website on October 201 (https://croplife.org/plant-biotechnology/regulatory-2/cost-of-bringing-a-biotech-crop-to-market/).

Each year, millions of farmers around the world plant biotech crops for higher yields, improved crop quality and the ability to use sustainable farming practices such as no-till.  Getting these innovative new traits from the lab to their fields requires a tremendous investment – a new research survey reveals how it all adds up.

  • The cost of discovery, development and authorization of a new plant biotechnology trait introduced between 2008 and 2012 is US$136 million.
  • The time from the initiation of a discovery project to commercial launch is 13.1 years on average for all relevant crops.
  • The time associated with registration and regulatory affairs is increasing from a mean of 3.7 years for an event introduced before 2002, to the current (2011) estimated 5.5 years.
  • Regulatory science, registration and regulatory affairs account for the longest phase in product development, estimated at 36.7% of total time involved.
  • The trend in the number of units (candidate genes, constructs or genetic events) being screened in order to develop one trait is increasing.

From discovering new genetic traits, field testing and meeting intense regulatory requirements that ensure environmental and human safety, the overall plant biotech R&D process is costly and time-consuming. To determine the relative cost and duration of this process, Phillips McDougall conducted a research survey based on information provided by six of the industry’s largest biotech crop developers – BASF, Bayer CropScience, Dow AgroSciences, DuPont/Pioneer Hi-Bred, Monsanto and Syngenta AG.

The September 2011 survey entitled, “The cost and time involved in the discovery, development and authorization of a new plant biotechnology derived trait”, focused on biotech traits in large scale commodity crops that had received cultivation approval in two countries and import approvals from at least five countries.

Key findings of the survey included:

Overall Cost

The cost of discovery, development and authorization of a new plant biotechnology trait introduced between 2008 and 2012 is US$136 million

Overall Time to Commercialization

The time from the initiation of a discovery project to commercial launch is 13.1 years on average. This does not include the time required to develop and obtain regulatory approval for stacked trait varieties which are the final product in most crops today.

Number of Years Required to Discover, Develop and Authorize a new Plant Biotech Trait (Mean Values)

Canola

Corn

Cotton

Soybean

All crops

Number of years from discovery of trait to first commercial sale

11.7

12.0

12.7

16.3

13.1

 

Duration of Each Activity Stage

The time associated with the R&D stage involving registration and regulatory affairs (Stage VII) is increasing from a mean of 44.5 months (3.7 years) for an event introduced before 2002, to the current estimate of 65.5 months (5.5 years). Because various activity stages overlap in real time, these totals do not reflect the actual duration of the overall R&D process described above.

Duration of Each Activity Stage in the Trait R&D Process (mean number of months)

Activity Stage

Duration for an event sold before 2002

Duration for an event introduced between 2008 and 2012

Duration to complete each stage in 2011

I Early Discovery

38.0

33.9

25.8

II Late Discovery

17.3

20.0

20.9

III Construct Optimization

18.0

27.0

32.8

IV Commercial Event Production & Selection

24.0

30.0

34.0

V Introgression Breeding & Wide-Area Testing

40.0

37.2

42.0

VI Regulatory Science

50.5

37.2

47.0

VII Registration & Regulatory Affairs

44.5

48.8

65.5

Total Cumulative Time

232.3

234.1

268.0

Number of Units Evaluated

The trend in the number of units (candidate genes, constructs or genetic events) being subjected to screening in order to develop one trait is increasing from a mean of 1,638 for an event introduced before 2002, to 6,204 for an event introduced between 2008 and 2012. The survey also demonstrated increasing efficiency by the industry with fewer events in the production & selection stage (Stage IV) for the events commercialized in 2008-2012 compared to events introduced before 2002.

Activity Stage

Event introduced before 2002

Event introduced between 2008-2012

I Early Discovery

1,638

6,204

II Late Discovery

302

4,005

III Construct Optimization

135

511

IV Commercial Event Production & Selection

2,853

1,302

V Introgression Breeding & Wide-Area Testing

4

2

VI Regulatory Science

2

1

VII Registration & Regulatory Affairs

1

1

 

Factors hindering adoption of GMO Africa

By Clet Wandui MASIGA, Conservation Biologist, Geneticist and Farm Entrepreneur

Ezezika and colleagues analysis of factors that hinder the adoption of GMOs in Africa are still at large in influencing decisions on GMOs today. The four factors identified by Ezezika and team include communication, culture and religion, capacity building and commercialization.

The main challenge limiting GMO adoption is limited understanding of GM crops by the public. This was closely followed by elitism in reporting and ineffective and inaccuracies.  Full report is available at http://www.nature.com/nbt/journal/v30/n1/full/nbt.2088.html