Monday, 4 March 2013
Bio-technology developments in Uganda: Should we be jubilating?
Tony Kakooza reports on the new Biotech Bill in Uganda and questions its viability for local farmers:
"There is a new Bill in Uganda called the National Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill that is soon to be discussed in Parliament. The hope is that this Bill, when enacted, will offer guidance in the production of genetically modified crops in Uganda. However, there are mixed concerns over this Bill. Regardless of the fact that the Bill was drafted eight years ago and has undergone various changes, it’s having been introduced into Parliament as a Private members Bill is enough to show that consultations and research on the Bill were not adequate enough. Some view it as an Intellectual property development with on-going R&D in the patenting of life forms and experiments on plant variety. Proponents of the Bill also argue that it is an international requirement for all countries carrying out research on genetically modified organisms to have a regulation in place to guide the practice.
Others are more skeptical and are concerned about the impact this may have on food security and the nature of the relationship amongst Farmers’ co-operative societies – not to mention the health concerns upon consumers of genetically modified crops. In the United States, for instance, there are a number of petitions going around (In States such as Illinois) with demands that producers of genetically modified foods should label them as such to enable consumers exercise a better purchasing option. These petitions are mainly derived from fears over the health-associated risks. The Ugandan Daily Monitor newspaper also reports about the detrimental effect that some genetically engineered products have on farm crops and on soil fertility (See: Ugandan farmers do not need GMOs, By Vivian Asedri – March 1, 2013).
Uganda is generally well endowed with fertile soils and good weather conditions for farming. Nonetheless, there is a lot of rhetoric where genetically modified crops are involved: Rather than push for modification and boosting agricultural production through biotechnological means, wouldn’t farmers be served better through improvements in the transportation system; a supply of fertilizers; and, better farming material? Ugandan Farmers also face bad seasons and poor productions every year. Don’t we therefore envisage cases of unfair competition where farmers with genetically modified products will out-compete organic products in the market? Will consumers be able to tell the difference between these products?
Looking at this issue in context, biotechnology sprung up from developed economies that are more industrial than agro-based. The likes of U.S big companies, such as Monsato, derive their commercial benefits on the Constitutional mandate to “promote the progress of Science . . . by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries”. It is all purely business to them and the patenting system supports this. Developing countries like Uganda on the other hand are - to a great extent - Agro-based, with a large part of the population depending on subsistence farming. As such, bringing in biotechnological developments in their back yards is likely to ultimately destroy their means of survival."