Peter Wamboga-Mugirya, a B4FA Mentor and leading Ugandan journalist, draws attention to the news that more than 50% of GM crops are now planted in developing countries, as revealed in the latest ISAAA report, ‘The global status of commercialised biotech/GM crops‘.
“I think this report also serves as an important source of information to help understand how not only how African — but also developing countries more generally — are strategically taking advantage of the science of modern biotechnology, especially in boosting agricultural productivity,” noted Mr. Wamboga.
In Africa, the Republic of Sudan began growing GM cotton in 2012, making it the fourth country in Africa to commercialise GM crops after South Africa, Burkina Faso, and Egypt.
Uganda has not yet been able to commercialise any GM crops though there is a wealth of research being carried out; however, the National Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill is currently before the Science and Technology Committee of the Ugandan Parliament.
Mr. Wamboga-Mugirya further explained the context of biotech in Uganda:
“Today, in Sub-Saharan Africa, Uganda leads the continent in biotech-based agricultural research, with 9 projects ongoing.
GM Banana: against banana bacterial wilt, black sigatoka and biofortication with Vitamin A and Iron, to enhance its nutritional content;
GM Cassava: against the viral Cassava Mosaic Disease (CMD) and Cassava Brown Streak Disease (CBSD);Cotton: Bt Cotton for resistance to the bollworm pests; and Herbicide Tolerant (Ht) cotton against weeds;
GM Sweet Potatoes: against viral and bacterial infections; and potato weevils;
GM Maize: against drought via the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) project, and Bt maize against stem/stalk-borers.
If these technologies and products are to be commercialised, a biotechnology and biosafety law is required, in accordance with the National Biotechnology and Biosafety Policy 2008 and the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety — to which Uganda is signatory.A proposed legislation, the National Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill 2102, is before the Ugandan Parliament, whose Committee on Science and Technology is scrutinising it and also soliciting public views and input until March 22, when the committee presents its report and an improved Bill for general debate and enaction into law.The State-run National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) wants a clause on Liability and Redress — missing in the current bill — be included, to deal with unintended release of a GMO.
NEMA’s submission on Feb. 19 was welcomed by the legislators, who recommended, however, that the environment watchdog’s position be harmonised with that of scientists so that biotech-based R & D is not curtailed per se. The Bill in its current form, has a clause: “Unintentional Release and Emergency Measures” that caters fior unintended release of GMOs, such as a restoration order issue by the Competent Authority (the Uganda National Council for Science and Technology).”