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.

 

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Genetically Modified Seed Central in Saik’s Agricultural Manifesto

By Clet Wandui MASIGA, A conservation Biologist, Geneticist and Farm Entrepreneur

Email: wmasiga@hotmail.com

Hype, misinformation, and twisting of facts have been used to deny farmers in developed countries access to genetically engineered (GE) seed for farming. This has created fear towards GE crops, thus enabling organic food dealers to make more profits in North America and Western Europe. AGRI-TREND CEO Robert Saik makes these arguments and more in his Agriculture Manifesto (May 2014).

The 52 page book contains ten key drivers that will shape agriculture in the next decade. On September 3, 2015, the Cornell Alliance for Science hosted a lecture by Saik to twenty-five Global Leadership Fellows (myself included), communications champions from around the world focused on to enhancing their capacities for ensuring that farmers have access to scientific innovation. It’s hoped that this diverse group of champions from Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Ghana, Nigeria, Bangladesh, India, Philippines, Indonesia, and USA will build a global community of advocates in support of science and evidence-based decision-making.

Central in Saik’s lecture was that the future of agriculture could be genetically modified organisms, which he has re-baptized as genetically modified organic (GMO). He explained why GMOs have been resisted and continue to be. In his message, Saik suggests that commercial interests such as Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and Chipotle—grocery chains and restaurants that seem interested in pushing a mandate of anti-industrialization of agriculture onto consumers—have led to a great deal of suspicion about GMO technology. In other words, he argues that a non-science movement is closely related to money; the rise of “Big Organic” the back of fear and suspicion, not on science.

Due to misinformation, particularly by biosafety entrepreneurs, many countries have difficulties making decisions on whether or not to adopt use of GMOs in agriculture. In Uganda, some of these biosafety entrepreneurs include the Centre for Health, Human Rights and Development (CEHURD), Food Rights Alliance Uganda (FRA), the Southern and Eastern African Trade Negotiations Institute (SEATINI), and Action Aid Uganda. Their businesses thrive by attracting money from donors purposely to create fear that GMOs are not safe. They twist facts and provide many non-science references to deny farmers access to genetically modified (GM) seed that could have huge benefits for better crops and more healthy food.

GM seeds have the opportunity to provide many benefits to farmers. In Uganda GM maize seeds have been developed to tolerate drought and resist pests, GM cassava to resist diseases, GM sweet potatoes to resist pests and viruses, GM cotton to resist pests, and GM banana to resist pests and diseases. Denying farmers access to such technology deprives them of key input for production and makes farming more expensive.

The other nine key drivers in the agricultural manifesto are non-science, market, sensor technology, 3D printing, Robotics, water, precision agriculture, artificial intelligence, and data. This book is written to enable farmers, agribusiness communities, and consumers to stay informed about the future of agriculture. This book was an Amazon 2014 Best of Books.

It has taken developing countries more than 20 years to decide on whether or not to adopt GE seed and it’s therefore time for farmers to liberate themselves by demanding for access to GE seeds. Not all issues against GM seed are based on science.

The main set back of Saik’s book is that it’s self published and has not been reviewed by anyone independent and or experts in agriculture. As such it’s limited to his personal opinion.  There are no references cited which makes it difficult for anyone to access the quality of his publication. Nevertheless he does an excellent job in sharing his own personal opinion on the technologies for the future of agriculture.