13 January 2018

Uganda: MPs to Govt - Farmers Need Money, Not GMOs

Photo: The Observer
Farmers at work in eastern Uganda.

Legislators opposed to the National Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill, 2012 say government should increase the budget for agriculture instead of introducing Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) to counter food insecurity and other climate change challenges.

The MPs who have vowed to fail the passage of the National Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill argue that it promotes use of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), which are dangerous to lives and the environment.

The bill, which seeks to provide a regulatory framework for safe development and application of biotechnology research, development and release of genetically modified organisms was re-tabled in the House on Thursday following President Museveni's refusal to sign it after parliament passed it in October.

Museveni, in a letter to Speaker Rebecca Kadaga dated December 21, 2017, cited eleven reasons why the bill must be reconsidered by parliament.

The president sought, among other things, clarification on the title, patent rights of indigenous farmers and sanctions for scientists who mix GMOs with indigenous crops and animals.

Addressing a news conference at parliament, Bufumbira East MP James Nsaba Buturo and Ngora MP David Abala blamed their colleagues and Ugandan scientists for falling prey to the powerful GMO lobbyists although their peers in developed countries, such as the Netherlands, rejected GMOs.

"Ugandan scientists, knowingly or not, are being used by some powers to create a suitable climate for the latter to dominate our country and impose various technologies that would serve their interests and not those of Ugandans," Buturo said.

The legislators argue that Uganda does not need GMOs as a means to achieve food security.

"Uganda is ranked the world's second best organic foods producer but if the GMO bill becomes law, this will gravely undermine the safe organic foods thereby endangering people's lives. I regret that we as a government have failed to take agriculture seriously," Buturo said.

"You see it in the investments we do or make. You see it in the absence of irrigation, improved seeds, and credit facilities for farmers. It is a whole range of issues we have failed to address. This climate change business cannot be answered by introducing dangerous GMOs, there must be other ways and the country must wake up and say where do we go next?" he added.

Abala expressed gratitude to the President for returning to Parliament the GMO bill and insisted he will lobby colleagues to discard it given the serious impact he says GMOs have on humans and the environment.

"I am happy it's back and we are going to continue where we ended by opposing it and saying it should not be discussed. It must be defeated in the House. If somebody says it will help us fight food insecurity, government must talk about what we must invest in agriculture, I am sure we shall have enough food," Abala said.

The agriculture budget stood at Shs 828 billion in the financial year 2017/18, accounting for about three percent of the Shs 29 trillion total budget, contrary to the Maputo declaration which recommends that at least 10 percent of the budget be allocated to agriculture.

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