25 May 2016

Uganda: Govt Told to Support Small Farmers Instead of GMOs

Photo: The Presidency of the Republic of South Africa
Farmers harvesting vegetables.

Uganda government and legislators should not open up for genetically-modified foods but instead support small-scale farmers grow enough food.

Anti-GMO crusaders, AgroEcology Fund and Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (Afsa), argue that smallholder farmers have the capacity to feed their families, local and international markets on organic foods.

Government must provide facilities such as irrigation systems, improved seeds and fertilizers. Bernard Guri, the chairperson of Afsa, said: "It is only Africa that can solve African food shortage problems and Uganda should take the lead; the National Bio-technology and Bio-safety Bill is simply seeking to give rights of food production to foreign countries."

Guri told farmers and leaders from the global AgroEcology movement in Masaka district recently that GMOs are to benefit foreign countries.

The National Bio-technology and Bio-safety Bill 2012 has been in parliament for more than three years. It is now before the parliamentary committee on science and technology.

If passed into an Act, it would pave way for GMOs in the country. Guri added that African governments are not recognizing the importance of smallholder farmers. They have failed to invest in research and improve local seeds.

"Foreign scientists use that opportunity to develop their own genetically-modified seeds which we don't own," he said. "We still have forests, water resources; we still can commercialize the native seeds."

Bridget Mugambe, a policy advocate at Afsa, said Uganda had good soils, ample rainfall and rendering genetic engineering unnecessary. Pat Mooney, a member of ETC group, an emerging technologies monitoring group in Canada, said 80 per cent of the GMOs are grown in the US, Canada, Brazil and Argentina using advanced technology and on big plantations.

Mooney explained that GMOs are created in a manner that makes a farmer spray more herbicides, killing surrounding plants.

"If Uganda allows GMOs, I don't think farmers will have the technology [to sustain them]...," he said.

Mooney claims GMO maize is not for human consumption and it is meant for bio-fuels. He added that GMO plants can lead to genetic contamination. Jennifer Aston, the coordinator Swift Foundation, one of the organizations against GMOs, said Uganda should reject the introduction of genetically-modified seeds and food.

"We are greatly concerned about the current Bio-technology and Bio-safety bill being proposed here in Uganda. We find it troubling if a country which is fourth in the production of organic food in the world and Africa opts for the unknown, " Aston said.

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