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.

 

Animal breeding using genetic engineering proves enormous potential in Agricultural production and public health

By Clet Wandui Masiga

Today the November the 23rd 2015, I attended and presented at the second biennial national agricultural biosciences conference (NABIO2015), at the school of food science, nutrition & biosystems engineering conference centre, Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda. My presentation title was “Animal breeding using genetic engineering proves enormous potential in Agricultural production and public health”. Gauging from the reactions and questions from the audience, it was evident many people did not know that Genetic engineering of animals was taking place. The participants demanded to know when Uganda will bring such animal breeds. Below is the abstract of my presentation. It has also been published in the book of abstracts.

Animal breeding using genetic engineering proves enormous potential in Agricultural production and public health

CletWandui Masiga1*

 

1Tropical institute of development innovations (TRIDI), P O Box 493, Entebbe Uganda

* Corresponding author. Email: wmasiga@hotmail.com; c.masiga@tridi.org

Tel: +256 772 457155

 

Animal breeding using genetic engineering (GE) tool is the development of new breeds of animals having a specific trait to an embryo by introducing, eliminating or rearranging specific genes using the methods of modern molecular biology, particularly those techniques referred to as recombinant DNA (rDNA) techniques. The tool has been used since its discovery in 1970s from model research species to farm enterprises for the benefit of human kind. In 1980 GE mice was developed and in 1985, GE livestock and fish were first developed and many others have followed. These GE animals are vital for meeting the world’s future demands for increasing food, making animal production competitive and also in addressing public health concerns. The objective of this study was to document the progress made in breeding livestock using genetic engineering, provide information on how it’s done, the importance of such animals, limitation for their adoption and provide perspectives on its future. A transgenic animal results from the process that involves development of the gene construct and inserting that construct into the embryo. Other GE animals are produced using other approaches like genome editing and cisgenics. These GE animals are currently used in research as disease models, biomedical field in pharmaceuticals and xenotransplantation, in industrial processes and in agricultural production. There are currently few GE animals or products from them that have been commercially released or approved for solving human demands. Key among them  include GloFish (fish), ATryn (goats), transchromosomical cattle, xenotrasplation pigs, OX513A (GE mosquito, Aedes aegypti).   In agriculture for food there is none that is on the market to date but so far the GE agricultural animals developed include cows, sheep, chickens, pigs, and fish. Specific examples include Mastitis resistant cows, pigs expressing salivary phytase, Omega-3 pigs, Mad cow resistant cows, GE chickens that don’t transmit bird flu, and fast growing salmon. Looking into the future, GE animals hold potential to revolutionize public health and agriculture. However GE animals are being resisted by environmentalists and organic farmer advocates based on precautionary principle and for unknown safety risks to humans, biodiversity and the environment. These environmentalists and organic farmer and their consumers have influenced enactment of strict regulatory regimes that makes it difficult to commercialize GE animals. GE animals will not alone solve the world’s future animal demands for food and health issues but the resistance to use this technology is immoral and unethical. Resistance is based mainly on consumer preferences of rich populations and not those of the farmers and in areas where the technologies are really needed. In conclusion GE is a new breeding/production technology which may need a revision of current regulatory definitions to investigate risk based on the characteristics of its products rather than the breeding technology.

 

 

Cultivated sweet potatoes are GMOs

By Clet Wandui Masiga, Conservation Biologists, Geneticist and Farm Entrepreneurs

The genome of cultivated sweet potato contains Agrobacterium T-DNAs with expressed genes. This is an example of a naturally transgenic food crop. This conclusion was reported by Kyndt et al in May 2015 in a peer reviewed original research article published by PNAS.

The experiments conducted by this group found out that two different T-DNA regions of Agrobacterium rhizogenes and Agrobacterium tumefaciens  are present in the cultivated sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas [L.] Lam.) genome and that these foreign genes are expressed at detectable levels in different tissues of the sweet potato plant. The experiment involved 217 genotypes that included both cultivated and wild species.

Accordingly the researchers concluded that their findings indicate that sweet potato is naturally transgenic. Sweet potato being a widely and traditionally consumed food crop, could affect the current consumer distrust of the safety of transgenic food crops.

In the authors own statements they indicate the significance of the study as follows:
We communicate the rather remarkable observation that among 291 tested accessions of cultivated sweet potato, all contain one or more transfer DNA (T-DNA) sequences. These sequences, which are shown to be expressed in a cultivated sweet potato clone (“Huachano”) that was analyzed in detail, suggest that an Agrobacterium infection occurred in evolutionary times. One of the T-DNAs is apparently present in all cultivated sweet potato clones, but not in the crop’s closely related wild relatives, suggesting the T-DNA provided a trait or traits that were selected for during domestication. This finding draws attention to the importance of plant–microbe interactions, and given that this crop has been eaten for millennia, it may change the paradigm governing the “unnatural” status of transgenic crops.