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.
By Clet Wandui Masiga Conservation Biologist, Geneticist and Farm Entrepreneur
A study done by John Herbert Ainembabazi and colleagues published on September 28, 2015 by PLOS supports investment in the development of GM banana resistant to Xanthomonas wilt disease. The main beneficiaries of this technology development are farmers and consumers, although the latter benefit more than the former from reduced prices. The study recommends that designing a participatory breeding program involving farmers and consumers signifies the successful adoption and consumption of GM banana in the target countries.
The results from the study indicate that on the release of GM banana for commercialization, the expected initial adoption rate ranges from 21 to 70%, while the ceiling adoption rate is up to 100%. Investment in the development of GM banana is economically viable. However, aggregate benefits vary substantially across the target countries ranging from US$20million to 953million, highest in countries where disease incidence and production losses are high, ranging from 51 to 83% of production. The study was done in the great lakes region focusing on Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, D R Congo, Burndi, Rwanda and Tanzania where banana bacterial wilt disease is a big threat to banana production. The full article is available at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4587572/
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/