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December 6th, 2018 / B4FA.org

This week, the Ugandan parliament finally passed a bill that will facilitate biotechnological development in the country. Formerly known as the National Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill, the bill is now named the Genetic Engineering Regulatory Bill 2018 at the request of Uganda’s President Museveni. The president had previously declined to approve the bill unless 12 amendments were made – including the protection of Uganda’s indigenous biodiversity with gene banks and a Strict Liability clause that holds scientists accountable in any complaint against their research, whether or not the issue is caused directly by the scientist.

Primarily because of the liability clause, the news has reportedly been met with skepticism by the scientific community, who worry it may hamper research. In a piece in Cornell’s Alliance for Science blog, Arthur Makara, commissioner in charge of outreach at the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation, said the clause was unnecessary as the government itself would ultimately be liable because the majority of Uganda’s biotech scientists are affiliated with public organizations.

In a piece by B4FA Fellow Henry Lutaaya about the new bill, Makara also said, “The strict liability clause is a disincentive to innovation. How do you start to work [developing new GM technologies] when you know that at the end of the day you will be held personally liable without the accuser simply having to present evidence? For example, if someone goes to a restaurant and eats a GM potato and develops stomach upsets later but goes ahead to claim that his health condition was as a result of GM potato without having to prove it, it means that the law is unfair.”

Critics of the new bill also worry that it will unfairly penalize smallholder farmers, who would likely struggle  to comply with strict regulations regarding crop labeling and isolation distance. Plant biotechnologist Dr Andrew Kiggundu said, in the Alliance for Science report: “You are indirectly telling [farmers] ‘these improved varieties are not for you.’ How can they isolate on these small pieces of land?”

Some, however, are finding cause to celebrate the bill as a step towards opening the possibility to boost food security and accelerate economic growth. In a piece published in PML Daily, Executive Director of Food Rights Alliance (FRA) Agnes Kirabo said “My prayer is that we give an opportunity for this instrument to be tried out. The fact is we are gifted by nature; our biodiversity is very rich.”

From the B4FA Fellows, we hear from Lominda Afedraru who writes in Alliance for Science about how young Ugandan farmers are pushing for GMO crops. Meanwhile, Michael Ssali writes an op-ed calling for the support of Ugandan agriculture with African-led technologies and innovations, and Wilber Muhwezi Kasibante reports on the danger of Bushenyi farmers spraying animals with pesticides in Uganda.

We welcome questions, comments and story links to [email protected]. Please also visit B4FA.org for further reading and useful resources – and follow us on Twitter or Facebook to keep up with daily news and join the conversation. We look forward to hearing from you!

Headlines

Uganda: Parliament finally approves GMO Bill
Parliament of the Republic of Uganda

Ugandan scientists skeptical of revised GMO bill 
Cornell Alliance for Science

Uganda: GM law passed but controversy persists
Sunrise, by B4FA Fellow Henry Lutaaya

The good, the bad and the ugly as Parliament passes controversial GMO Bill, what scientists say
PML Daily

AgBio news

Young Ugandan farmers push for homegrown GMO crops
Cornell Alliance for Science, by B4FA Fellow Lominda Afedraru

How will gene editing impact agriculture? Experts offer 10 predictions
Genetic Literacy Project

New biocontainment strategy controls spread of escaped GMOs
PhysOrg

Penn State root research results in breeding of improved bean plants for Africa
Penn State University

West Africa: Seed companies get funding
News Ghana

Kenya: Kenyatta ties revival of textile sector to GM cotton
Sunrise

Pakistan – a biotech country? 
Pakistan Today

Researchers develop transgenic rice with reduced arsenic accumulation
SEARCA Biotechnology Information Center

Best practices

Celebrating World Soil Day, December 5th 2018
Crop Nuts

From 5 December – World Soil Day – join By the Code of Soil, an online networked digital artwork
Code of Soil

“Land and soils constitute the foundation for sustainable agricultural development, essential ecosystem functions, and food security,” according to FAO
Food Tank

Zimbabwe: Planting now in full swing
AllAfrica

Why massive effort needs to be put into growing trees on farms
The Conversation Africa

Uganda: Very dangerous – Bushenyi farmers spraying animals with pesticides
MK Newslink, by B4FA Fellow Wilber Muhwezi Kasibante

Biodiversity

Governments set targets for biodiversity conservation by 2050
ISAAA

The Africa Soil Information Service provides continent-wide digital soil maps and decision-support applications for sub-Saharan Africa
CGIAR

Sweet sorghum a double sugar-hit for Indian farmers
Farm Online

Check out how plant science offers solutions to many problems that threaten global biodiversity
CropLife International

Here are 5 ways #farmers and #biodiversity rely on each other
CropLife International

Kenya: A veteran farmer in Embu holds to indigenous banana
FarmersTrend

New ‘Useful Plants Indicator’ shows conservation lacking in coffee
Daily Coffee News

Climate change and environment

Put more carbon in soils to meet Paris climate pledges
Nature

Q&A: Reliable, local climate data urgently needed
SciDevNet

Africa, victim of the challenging climate change: an unjust situation
Eurasia Review

Study: GMO crops could help offset climate change impacts
Cornell Alliance for Science

Ugandan researchers look to biotechnology to bolster food production in the face of climate change
Genetic Literacy Project

Drought-threatened Zimbabwe faces a quandary – grow maize or not?
AllAfrica

Changing climate for zero hunger – why nutrition matters
AllAfrica

Global food system is broken, say world’s science academies
Guardian UK

Global food systems are failing humanity and speeding up climate change
IAP

UN report says fragile climate puts food security at risk
VOA News

Food security threatened by changing climate, UN report says
Weather Channel

Development

Israel to train Ghanaian agricultural students
AllAfrica

Korea invests $9M to support science, technology skills across Africa
Journal du Cameroun

Uganda: Puzzle of transforming African agriculture
Daily Monitor, by B4FA Fellow Michael Ssali

Kenya: Meet the women who shape agricultural research, policy
Standard Media

Kenya: Apprenticeship will attract young people to agriculture
Daily Nation

Africa urged to accelerate its infrastructure development
African Daily Voice

Small-holder farmers need access to financing across the agricultural value chain
FarmBiz Africa

Central Bank of Nigeria: Rebuilding the agriculture “pillar”
Vanguard

700,000 petition EAC leaders over agriculture budget
The Citizen

Elanco Animal Health and Farm Radio International partner to drive change for small-scale livestock farmers in north Tanzania
AP

Energy and innovation

How Big Data could help fight malnutrition
Food Tank

The digital life of Kenya’s smallholder farmers
AllAfrica

Food security

Paris-compliant healthy food systems: Policy Brief for United Nations Climate Change Conference
Food Security

FAO Director-General calls for transformative changes to our food systems
ReliefWeb

A new report by World Resources in collaboration with WorldBank, UNEnvironment, UNDP Cirad, and INRA_IDF offers a 5-course menu of solutions that suggests it is possible to feed everyone sustainably
World Resources Institute

Plant more yams for food security – researchers
AllAfrica

Africa is suffering from high level of malnutrition
African Farming

Pests and diseases

Satellites warn African farmers of pest infestations
BBC

India: African pest attacks maize crops in state
Pune Mirror

Policy

Uganda: GMOs – a good law will boost agricultural research and development
New Vision

The GM debate

Agri-Culture: Let’s commit to having cooler heads next year 
The London Free Press

Counterproductive consequences of ‘anti-GMO’ activism
ESEP

Opportunities and resources

An introduction to vector and virus diagnostics. Kenya, 11 – 15 March 2019. Applications close midnight 9 December 2018
CONNECTED

Webinar: How is Senegal winning the battle against malnutrition?
Discussion of lessons from policy and program interventions. 10 December 2018, 3-4:30pm GMT
MaMo Panel

John Innes Centre seeks Postdoctoral Researcher to join the lab of Prof Steve Penfield, working on improving seed vigour of vegetable brassicas, Brassica oleracea
John Innes Centre