THE government has said that it is not ready to adopt Genetic Modified Foods and Organisms (GMO) technology as the National Assembly on Monday evening passed the Bill proposing for the establishment of "The Plant Breeders' Rights Act, 2012".
The Bill was endorsed amid heated debate by Members of the Parliament who expressed concern that it would open doors for multinational companies to come in the country and develop genetically modified seeds and in the process undermine traditional ones.
Minister for Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives, Mr Christopher Chizza said that the Bill aimed at replacing another law enacted by Parliament in 2002, The Protection of New Plant Varieties (Plant Breeders' Rights) Act, 2002. He said that the 2002 law does not attract researchers to research on seeds and that the new law would increase morale by introducing royalty and copyrights.
Mr Chizza said while tabling the Bill in the House for the second time that the government had no intention to open doors for GMOs but it was a move aimed at looking for quality and high yield seeds. "For a GMO to be introduced in the country there are strict liabilities attached under the Environmental Management Act, 2004, therefore there is no need to panic because we are all patriotic and we would not like to put the future of our country in doubt," he said.
He added that the government has its experts at Mikocheni area in Dar es Salaam who are conducting research on GMOs and that the experts have been cautioned not to make any dubious recommendations because of the sensitivity of the matter. "The government is committed in preserving local seeds and we will not let them be replaced by foreign seeds," he said.
He said that the Bill was a move by the government to adhere to the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) ratified by parliament in 2010. "The law is not a result of external forces but it is aimed at protecting the rights of researchers on new varieties of seeds," he said.
Earlier, legislators hailed the government for coming up with the Bill saying it would increase availability of seeds and motivate researchers. The MPs also said that the law would help in realizing real objectives of government's policy of Kilimo Kwanza (Agriculture First) which has been hindered by inadequate quality seeds.
Prof Peter Msola (Kilolo-CCM) said that the law has come at an opportune time as seeds production in the country remain poor at almost 25 per cent of the demand, making the country dependent on seeds from abroad. "Through the implementation of this law we will be able to improve technologically but the government should also fulfil its promise of putting aside one per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for research purposes," he said.
He said that since the promise of putting aside that amount was made, the government has not been able to fulfil it, saying there was a need to improve in the future. Mr Salim Hemed Hamis (Chambani-CUF) said that the Bill would improve agriculture by introducing modern seeds. He said that the maximum demand of seeds in the country was at 120,000 tons per annum and 60,000 tons on average but the country's capacity on the same is at around 28,000 tons.
Mr Suleiman Jafo (Kisarawe-CCM) said that researchers in the country were being demoralized by the fact that their work in discovering better seeds is never honoured. "Having this law in place will boost morale among our researchers and make them work hard than ever before as they are sure of getting royalty from their work and copyrights for their innovations," he said.
He emphasized on the need for the government to live up to its promises by setting aside one per cent of the country's GDP for research. "Nothing will be discovered without researches and there cannot be researches without funds, therefore the need to put aside enough money for that purpose is vital," he said. Mr Jafo also called for improved research institutions in terms of working environment and ensure that mentors therein are motivated enough to play their role accordingly.