Originally published in the Independent Magazine on July 6, 2017
Read original article here
Isaac Khisa, Kampala
The Uganda government says it is determined to ensure that the Biotech Bill is passed into law to facilitate safe development and application of biotechnology in the country.
The National Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill, 2012, is now before parliament for debate amidst protest from the opponents of the technology.
State Minister for Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries Christopher Kibazanga said the government would do all it takes to ensure that the bill is passed in parliament, as it strives to alleviate poverty among the more than 80% of the country’s population involved in agriculture sector.
“Any resistance against science in any field (in this country) means that you are only telling your people to remain poor,” Kibazanga said while launching the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) 2016 report in Kampala on Thursday.
“In order to maximally exploit the potential of our agriculture sector, we need to consider adopting this technology where necessary but we also need to regulate its use and educate the public about it so that they can appreciate its relevance and harmonized regulations.”
He said crop biotechnology innovations can help increase food production to address the needs of the growing population, especially those in the developing world.
He lashed out those opposing the technology saying most of them consume biotech products purchased unknowingly especially from supermarkets.
This comes barely few days after some MPs are reported to have confessed to receiving bribes from multinational companies to support the National Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill,popularly known as the GMO bill during the heated National Resistance Movement caucus meeting.
Presently, Uganda is seen as a regional leader in agricultural biotechnology research for food security crops including banana for resistance against bacterial wilt and improved nutritional profile, cassava for resistance to cassava brown streak and cassava mosaic disease and maize for drought and drought resistance.
Other crops under research includes rice for more effective use of nutrients and increased productivity, sweet potato for resistance to pests and Irish potato for resistance to potato blight.
Barbra Zawedde, the coordinator of Uganda Biosciences Information Centre (UBIC) said the country’s agriculture sector faces numerous challenges ranging from climate change to pests and diseases that could only be addressed with the help of science.
“There are so many methods of addressing low agricultural productivity including biotechnology,” she said, adding that biotech is mainly applied where conventional technologies have failed to address the problem However, she said biotechnology is not a panacea to high food production as farmers will still need to exercise better farming practices.
The ISAAA’s latest report shows that growing of biotech crops rebounded last year from a decline the prior year led by increased sowings in Brazil and the United States.
Biotech crops were planted on a record 185.1 million hectares last year, up 3 % from the 179.7 hectares planted a year earlier.A total of 26 countries, including 19 developing and 7 industrial countries, grew biotech crops.
Developing countries grew 54% of biotech crops, compared to 46% for industrial nations. In Africa only South Africa and Sudan grew biotech crops which included maize, soybean and cotton to 2.66 million hectares from 2.29 million hectares in 2015.
Elsewhere on the continent, a new wave of acceptance is emerging as Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria and Swaziland make advances in regulatory review and commercial approvals for a variety of biotech crops.
Some of the biotech crops now under cultivation includes maize, soybeans and cotton, which are genetically modified to resist pests or disease as well as tolerate drought or withstand sprayings of weed killers. Other biotech crops include apples that resist browning and potatoes that bruise less.
Those proposing growing biotech crops say the technology lowers the cost of food and helps farmers more safely manage pests and diseases.
But there has been increasing pressure from some consumers and environmental groups who argue that GMO crops increase pesticide use and pose threats to the environment and human health.
Plantings declined by 3 percent in Argentina, largely due to reduced soybean seedling’s as farmers shifted land to maize and sunflower cultivation.
On the other hand, low cotton prices and high stocks triggered a 24 % drop in biotech seedlings in China, where some biotech maize and soybean varieties are approved for import but not for cultivation.