Ugandan media, scientists discuss opportunities and challenges for public awareness on GMOs

“Why does the public hear more of the myths and lies about genetically modified crops than the truth and facts that the scientists are so proud of?” asked Abalo Irene Otto, a freelance journalist with The Observer newspaper in Uganda. Read more

Uganda: African biosafety agencies move to bridge GMO communication gap

Kampala, Uganda | ISAAC KHISA | African countries are currently having trouble releasing their biotech crops popularly known as Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) to farmers, but scientists seem to be embracing a new strategy to ensure that there exist relevant regulatory systems.

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Uganda: GMO Bill Back in Parliament After Three Years On Shelf

Parliament on Wednesday began scrutinizing the Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill 2012, which has been on the shelves for more than three years.

The bill was first tabled in parliament in 2013 by then minister of state in charge of Planning Matia Kasaija. Its introduction drew both praise and sharp criticism from people against the introduction of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the country.

While proponents of the bill believe that once passed, the already developed varieties of food crops that are drought-resistant will be given to farmers to plant and end hunger in Uganda, those against the bill have severally complained that introduction of GMOs will wipe out Uganda’s largely organic farming industry.

On Wednesday, the committee on Science and Technology presented two reports of their findings on the bill, pitting the pro and anti-GMO legislators against each other.

In the main report, committee chairman, Robert Kafeero Ssekitoleko (Nakifuma), said the committee had endorsed the bill because several GMO crops are already being researched on in Uganda and are in advanced stages. Kafeero said the enactment of an enabling law will enhance the safe development of modern biotechnology.

“The biggest challenges are how to adapt the production of food in view of the climate changes, and how to develop further the role of agricultural biotechnology in combating the global challenge. Crop varieties that are more resilient to drought, flooding, saline or acid soils and temperature extremes resulting from climate change may be needed, and adaptation-related technologies, including biotechnology, may play their part,” the main report reads in part.

 The report states that the intention of the proposed law is to provide for a regulatory framework that facilitates the safe development and application of modern biotechnology in Uganda.

However, two MPs on the committee, Atkins Katusabe (Bukonzo West) and Lee Denis Oguzu (Maracha), authored a minority report, raising concerns about genetic pollution, which may arise due to cross pollination, hence wiping out the traditional breeds and development of crop varieties that risk affecting soil fertility.

The two MPs also outlined the risk of external influence, brought on by the varied interest in the introduction of GMOs in the country through foreign companies.

Katusabe said that between 2010 and 2011, financial resources for agricultural biotechnological research were largely received from philanthropic organizations and intergovernmental organizations, while government only contributed three per cent

EXTERNAL INFLUENCE

He said amendments by the committee did not address the risk of external influence, which necessitates a comprehensive regulatory impact assessment to critically assess the adverse risks of external influence and financial sustainability of advancing biotechnology systems.

“The country’s progress in biotechnology relies on donors who advance their own agenda or interests, which may include extending risk of GMO development away from their home countries. The bill should be referred back to the sponsor,” the minority report states.

However, Kafeero said once the law is enacted, a national focal point and authority, as well as a national biosafety committee will be created to regulate the use of GMOs in the country.

President Yoweri Museveni, while touring a demonstration farm at Kawumu State Lodge in Luweero district on March 20, said the bill will help the country resolve some of the problems the agriculture sector faces, including drought.

Peter Wamboga-Mugirya, a pro-GMO activist, told The Observer that the legislation should have been introduced years ago, to help combat the growing challenges in the agricultural sector.

Citing the long spells of drought, coupled with the recent attack on crops by the fall armyworms, Mugirya said Ugandans are cold towards biotechnology because they have not been well informed about its benefits.

“When virulent viruses attack crops, what can scientists do after they have applied all conventional methods to fight these diseases? Their best shot is at genetic engineering to counter these problems. Biotechnology gives advanced solutions; so, let us help our farmers,” Mugirya said in a phone interview.

-Written by Olive Eyotaru in The Observer (Kampala) via AllAfrica.com.  See original article link here.

March for Science goes international

The Cornell Alliance for Science global network is planning to join the March for Science in key international locales on April 22, as well as Washington, D.C., and its home base of Ithaca, NY.

Science allies are organizing marches in the Philippines, Bangladesh, Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Hawaii, Mexico, Venezuela, Chile, London and other places.

Bangladesh

Arif Hossain, a communications officer with the Feed the Future South Asia Eggplant Improvement Partnership and an Alliance for Science Global Leadership Fellow, is organizing the march in Dhaka: “I believe in science, and to me this celebration is an inspiration and impulse to work for better health services, safer living, quality education and an enlightened future. I am marching to let the world know that we are united for science in Bangladesh. We have 160 million people to feed in the changed climate and together we will make a better day with science and innovation.”

Philippines

Marshall “Marlo” Asis, an agricultural journalist and Global Leadership Fellow, is helping to organize the march at the Quezon Memorial Circle in Quezon City: “As a historic first, the March for Science will serve as an agent of transformation in uniting Filipinos yearning for change with biotechnology at the heart of the discussion. Indeed for us, silence is no longer an option! It is high time to tell the world that good science intended for the common good must be once and for all accessible to those who need it most — the hungry, the malnourished and the poor.”

Uganda

Clet Wandui Masiga, a conservation biologist, geneticist and Global Leadership Fellow, is co-coordinating the march in Uganda:   “We have those people who know the truth about science, but they are silent. This silence is giving anti-science activists an opportunity to misinform the public. I am therefore going to march to show the world that I support and use science, and people should be allowed to have access to science to make decisions for themselves.”

Mexico

Luis Ventura-Martinez, a biologist on the faculty of the National Autonomous University of Mexico and Global Leadership Fellow, is participating in the Mexico City march: “I am for Mexico, and just like what is sadly happening in other developing countries, science is not a priority for our government, which recently reduced the financial support to science. We, the science allies, should show that no one deserves to be forgotten, that the science matters, and that we are here.

“We need to call out for science, because science is not alone. And from across the silence, and from across the world, our voices will be heard. We need to do this not just for the scientists, but for everyone, for all of us.”

Nigeria

Nkechi Isaac, a Nigerian journalist and Global Leadership Fellow, is joining the march in Nigeria:  “At the current population of over 180 million people, Nigeria is faced with the risk of malnutrition and hunger because the conventional method of agriculture can no longer meet up with our demand. Science holds the solution to our food security.

“Science is revolutionary. It holds the key to constant development and improvement for addressing climate change, food shortage and challenges in medicine. The March for Science provides an opportunity for scientists and science supporters to take a stand and highlight the immense benefits available for Nigeria in science.”

Hawaii

Marches are planned on the islands of Oahu, Hawaii, Maui and Kauai, where Sarah Thompson, coordinator of the Hawaii Alliance for Science, will be participating: “We are united in a love of science, an insatiable curiosity of it.  We know that science is everywhere and affects everyone. We seek to build a grassroots network of like-minded individuals who support science and science-based decision making.”

Remember to pick up your March for Science tee-shirts, social media materials and free downloadable posters at the Alliance for Science store.

-Released by Cornell Alliance for Science Global Network.  See original article link here.

GMO banana offers hope for disease and pest resistance

Transgenic bananas appear to successfully resist a bacterial wilting disease and pest species that are devastating the critical food crop in tropical regions across the planet, according to a newly published scientific paper.

The research has tremendous implications for Africa, which produces about a third of the 145 million tons of banana grown globally each year and 72 percent of the plantains. Banana production is an important source of income and food security for small-holder farmers, who have experienced significant crop losses due to disease, especially in East Africa.

Researchers turned to genetic engineering for a solution because “development of nematodes or banana Xanthomonas wilt (BXW)-resistant cultivars by traditional crosspollination techniques is hampered by the sterility of the polyploid genomes of cultivated banana and plantains,” stated the paper, which was published March 29 in “Food and Energy Security.”

Transgenic banana grown in both glasshouses and confined field trials demonstrated 100 percent resistance to BXW. Disease resistance was achieved by transferring two resistance genes from sweet pepper into banana, both singly and as stacked traits. These genes have provided disease resistance in other plants, including tobacco, tomato, orchids, calla lily, and rice. Researchers also have identified several other potential transgenes that could confer resistance to BXW.

Several transgenic defenses against nematodes are in different stages of development, according to the paper. Confined field trials using cystatin and peptide defenses show strong potential for nematode resistance — research that also could have positive implications for other crops affected by the destructive pest worms.

Currently, nematodes are controlled in commercial plantations by “environmentally damaging pesticides that are not normally available to or suitable for small-holders in Africa,” the paper stated. Small-holder farmers do not have sufficient land to rotate their crops.

The paper also reported that there is “no risk of gene flow from transgenic banana plants to either wild or cultivated plants” because most edible cultivars are sterile and therefore cannot cross-pollinate because they produce no seeds or pollen.

Leena Tripathi, a plant biotechnologist at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Nairobi, wrote the paper with assistance from Howard Atkinson, Hugh Roderick, Jerome Kubiriba and Jaindra N. Tripathi.

The research was funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the Department for International Development (DFID) and the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB).

-Written by Joan Conrow and published in Cornell University Alliance for Science Global Network website.  See original article link here.

Uganda: Pressure to Pass GMO Bill Gains Momentum

Will it, will it not? Uganda teeters on the brink of having a new bill to regulate genetically modified goods after President Yoweri Museveni cleared the air about which side he supports, writes JUSTUS LYATUU.

The pressure to pass the Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill 2012 has started building up in recent weeks after some parts of the country experienced food shortages due to the prolonged drought.

Proponents of the bill believe that once it is passed, the already developed varieties of food crops that are drought-resistant will be given to farmers to plant and this would end hunger in Uganda.

President Yoweri Museveni says the bill will help the country resolve some of the problems the agriculture sector faces. President Museveni, on March 20, while touring a demonstration farm at Kawumu State Lodge in Luweero district, is quoted to have said that the bill should be passed to help improve farming practices, backed by modern research and technology.

This month alone, the Uganda National Farmers Federation (UNFFE), researchers from National Crops Resources Research Institute (NaCCRi) in Namulonge and President Museveni called upon Parliament to quickly pass the Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill 2012.

Farmers said the failure by the legislators to pass the bill has denied them the chance to access modern technologies being developed by the National Agricultural Research Organisation (Naro) centres spread across the country.

Charles Ogang, the president of UNFFE, said Uganda will go on to lose opportunities to prevail over challenging agricultural production constraints that could be best addressed using technology.

“Researchers have developed genetically modified bananas and cassava, which are resistant to drought and diseases such as bacterial wilt and cassava brown streak but cannot have access to these varieties without a law in place,” he said.

According to Barbra Zawedde Mugwanya, the Uganda Biosciences Information Center (Ubic) coordinator at NaCCRI, farmers continue to suffer tremendous economic losses yet researchers are developing varieties and shelving them because there is no law.

“There is a lot of food insecurity from manageable stresses such as pests, diseases and even drought. But we can’t give solutions because we don’t have the law,” she said.

Mugwanya explained that scientists from Naro have identified the use of various measures and biotechnology has been identified as the best solution.

“For instance, we have developed solutions to banana bacterial wilt, viruses in cassava, drought-resistant maize and rice. In fact, bacterial wilt disease is causing Uganda an annual loss of over Shs 600 million,” she said.

Uganda is the only country carrying out biotechnology research without a law yet it has the largest number of crops under testing, which include cassava, banana, maize, potato, rice and sweet potatoes.

“Our neighbours and major trading partners have put in place regulations to regulate the use of modern technology. Their products will enter our markets soon in an unregulated manner,” Mugwanya said. Kenya last year approved the use of GMO seeds.

CONCERNS

Antagonists, however, say that the growing of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the country will adversely affect Ugandans and make farming more expensive.

Some of the common concerns include loss of indigenous seeds, failure of the genetically modified seeds to adapt to the different seasons, and the dominance of the large seed companies in Uganda’s agriculture sector.

Mugwanya said the World Health Organization (WHO), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and European Food Safety Association agree that genetically modified foods on the market are safe.

“We are already consuming genetically modified products in Uganda. These are foods, beverages and drugs. All these products are imported from elsewhere and unregulated,” said Anita Tibasaaga, the media and public relations officer at Ubic.

Harriet Ityang, an official from the ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, said the bill emphasizes safety in using biotechnology by providing for measures to be taken to minimise or avoid risk to human health and the environment arising from actual or potential contact with a genetically modified organisms.

“The bill provides for every application for research or general release to contain an emergency plan, complete with safety measures for unintentional release of a genetically-modified organism,” she said.

Ityang added: “We need the bill because Kenya and Rwanda are planting GMOs. We believe with the law, we can fight drought; also the government has invested over Shs 20bn in research, this money should not be wasted.”

She explained that Uganda needs a law in place before improved versions from biotechnology can be passed on to the farmers for planting. In 2014, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, an independent, nonpartisan research and educational institute focusing on the intersection of technological innovation and public policy, said seeds improved through biotechnology were grown by 16.5 million small farmers in 20 developing countries on 230 million acres (53 percent of the global total).

TREATING REMEDIES, NOT CAUSES

Hakim Baliraine, a board member at Eastern and Southern Africa Small-scale Farmers’ Forum (ESAFF- Uganda), said GMOs will only give short-term solutions that are not sustainable in the long run. He explained that organic seeds are still relevant but the challenge is mainly caused by low soil fertility and environmental degradation.

“Our soils are infertile due to mono-cropping. Also, changing weather patterns have affected farming, whether GMO or organic farming. Rain is needed. What government should do is to initiate irrigation schemes,” he said.

Baliraine, who is also a member of Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFISA), explained that genetically modified crops are highly dependent on fertlisers, which will increase a cost in farming.

Baliraine said more work on the GMO bill is needed in order to accommodate the wishes of the organic farming community.

“The bill will be good, but not in its current form. It does not explain what will happen to our seeds if they are contaminated by GMO seeds…,” he said.

Baliraine added: “We need the bill to explain how we shall be compensated in case of cross pollination, and also it should give us a way forward for those doing indigenous knowledge research.”

-Written by Justus Lyatuu in The Observer via AllAfrica.  See original article link here.

Uganda: Museveni Wants Parliament to Enact Biotechnology Bill

Luweero — President Museveni has repeated his efforts to boost food security and household income with a promise to ensure that the Biotechnology and Bio-safety bills are passed by Parliament to boost modern farming practices.

President Museveni, who on Monday toured a demonstration farm at Kawumu State Lodge in Luweero District as part of his efforts to boost modern farming practices in the former war zone which brought the NRM government into power said the NRM party Caucus would soon sit to ensure that the Biotechnology Bill is passed to help improve farming practices backed by modern research and technology.

“The Biotechnology Bill will help us resolve some of the problems we have in the agriculture sector. The NRM caucus will soon convene to finalise on this matter. We should not be held back on this matter,” Mr Museveni told journalists on Monday.

Earlier in the day, President Museveni toured several demonstrations on the farm plots at the State Lodge where modern farming practices have been developed through establishment of coffee, banana, pineapple and fish ponds.

Mr Museveni said his last visit in Makulubita Sub-county where he encouraged residents to use water bottles for irrigation was misinterpreted by many people yet he had a point for the rural poor who cannot afford the bigger and sophisticated irrigation methods.

“We have been using water bottles to irrigate the coffee, banana, passion fruits among other crops on this demonstration farm. You are witnesses to what has happened. You should be able to help me preach this gospel of improved farming practices, the President told journalists on Monday.

At Kawumu demonstration farm, President Museveni has 400 banana plants, 450 coffee trees and a demonstration garden for pineapples. The farm also has four fish ponds.

The demonstration plots are supposed to help the people in the area learn better farming practices. The demonstration plots were established in November 2016 when Mr Museveni camped in Makulubita Sub-county to monitor Operation Wealth Creation activities.

-Written by Dan Wandera in The Monitor via AllAfrica.com.  See original article link here.