In the news...

October 11th, 2017 / B4FA.org

Big news this week as Uganda’s Parliament finally passes its long-debated biotechnology safety bill, the Uganda’s National Biosafety Act (formerly the Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill 2012). The law has been under discussion since 2012 and lays out guidelines for the commercialization and transport of GMOS for import and export.  According to the Bill, biotechnology is defined as a technique that uses living organisms or substances from living organisms to modify a product, improve plants, animal breeds or microorganisms for specific purposes. Biosafety is defined as safe development, transfer, application and utilisation of biotechnology and its products.

Passage of the bill into law clears the way for GM food crops already being developed in Uganda – including virus-resistant cassava, salt-tolerant rice, and wilt resistance and enhanced Vitamin A in banana, which will all contribute to Uganda’s food security and enhanced nutrition – to undergo final field trials and be considered for release to farmers. A piece by B4FA Fellow Henry Luutaya in Sunrise points out that, “with up to 15 biotechnology products under different stages of trial, the passage of the bill is likely to help Uganda claim its place in Africa as one of the countries at the forefront of agricultural research.”

According to a piece by Isaac Ongu in Cornell’s Alliance for Science blog, science advocates are celebrating this victory. “Finally, banana farmers will be able to access varieties of banana resistant to bacterial wilt, and the people, especially children, can finally eat bananas and other foods rich in Vitamin A,” said Patricia Nanteza, who works with the national banana program at Kawanda. “It’s exciting, though it feels almost unreal after all the setbacks.” The Act will be forwarded to President Yoweri Museveni, who is expected to sign the law within a month, according to another piece, written by B4FA Fellow Christopher Bendana, at which point it will become operational.

In other news, Professor Gary Foster and his team at the University of Bristol’s School of Biological Sciences have been given a £2 million Vector-borne Disease Network grant to “build a sustainable network of scientists and researchers to address the challenges of vector-borne plant viruses in Africa,” according to an announcement on the University’s website. Professor Foster is considered a leader in plant virology and vector-transmitted diseases, and has a particular interest in food security. The grant is funded by the UK government Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) which supports research on global issues that affect developing countries.

Speaking of the network, Professor Foster says, “This breadth of expertise enables the management board to establish cutting edge research projects together with practical advice for farmers, plant health certification schemes and policy initiatives in Africa. From the outset, the management board will engage with established networks, stakeholders and funders in Africa to define research targets. There will be a series of question setting workshops to explore research priorities in the key areas of disease control strategies, vector biology, new diseases, vector-virus interactions and
diagnostics/surveillance/forecasting.”

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