Does Uganda Need Genetically Modified Food to Quell Hunger?

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Scientists are saying the longer Uganda takes to adopt the technology that has been in place for two decades, the more it will continue to suffer with low agricultural productivity. They say GMO technology could offer solution for increased productivity.
02 Feb 2017 11:16
GM banana under confined field trials at Kawanda

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The current food crisis is prompting debate on whether Uganda should adopt Genetically Modified food to increase agriculture productivity.

The food crisis has largely been caused by persistent drought and to some extent pests and diseases leading to crop failure or low productivity.

Leading local and international agriculture researchers meeting in Kampala for the 2017 Bio-safety Forum say the adoption of genetically modified food organisms, or GMOs, could have been part of the solution in increasing agricultural production.

Genetically Modified Food products are scientifically engineered to increase yield, reduce the need for pesticides, enhance nutrient composition resist pests and disease among others.

Scientists say they can come with products to enable crops to withstand environmental stressors like drought, allowing them to grow where they would not otherwise be able to thrive.

The adoption of GMO technology in Uganda has been slow often overshadowed by campaigners trying to stop their introduction.

Scientists in Uganda like their counterparts globally acknowledge the fact that there can be environmental risks associated with GMOS but they say the risks can be minimized one right procedure and precautionary measures are put in place. 

The National Biosafety Committee and Scientists want government through parliament to put in place regulatory policies for GMOS.

Government in 2012 drafted The National Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill 2012 which if enacted would provide a stronger regulatory framework to ensure safety in research and development of modern biotechnology but the Bill has never been passed by Parliament.

Now with the biting hunger, increasing pests and diseases attacking major crops like Bananas, Maize, beans and cassava, Science Technology and InnovationMinister, Dr.Elioda Tumwesigye says there is emerging consensus in cabinet that genetically Modified Organisms can be part of the solutions to the country's agricultural productivity. “Biotechnology will help us to solve the challenges of our society. Right now we are faced with hunger. Every year1.2 million babies are born. And all these guys we must feed them. Unfortunately in some places we have people sleeping on an empty stomach. Right now as this drought hits in, we are facing a big challenge of hunger” said Dr. Elioda Tumwesigye.

//Cue in “biotechnology will help

Cue Out….with this water”///  

Dr. Elioda observed that latest figures from the Ministry of Disaster Preparedness indicate that about 1.3 million people are  experiencing some form of of hunger as a result of prolonged drought leading to crop  failure in districts like Isingiro in South Western Uganda. 

He said as Ugandan continue to resist the enactment of the biotechnology law, studies indicate that the technology could be also us to find a lasting solution to Fall Armyworm now ravaging the maize crop across the country.

The only existing policy is the Uganda National Biotechnology and Biosafety Policy adopted in 2008. The policy formulated by the National Council for Science and Technology (UNCST) provides a regulatory and institutional framework for safe and sustainable biotechnology development and application.

But scientists and those interested in keeping Uganda's biodiversity say the country still needs a law rather than a policy to regulate uptake of genetically modified organism.

Dr. Theresa Sengooba, a renowned Ugandan plant pathologist says the delay in putting in place a law has cost Uganda greatly.

Dr. Sengooba, an Advisor with Program for Biosafety Systems says a number of crops developed by Ugandan scientists have for long remained under confined field trials because scientists under the existing policy cannot move their trials to the next stages. Dr. Sengooba says the law is need by those opposed to or in support of genetically modified organisms.

Basically the law is in places so that people don't use the technology as they want. It has to be regulated so that the technology is properly used. So regulation is key here even those who don't want certain GMOs. I think  the issue is why we need this law and how it will work” said Dr. Theresa Sengooba.

////Cue In“ basically the law

Cue Out……….they can use it.” ////

One of the crops that have remained under confined filed trials is the GM banana that will enable Matooke resistant to wilts by inserting a gene from Red pepper.  The GM banana would if successful be resistant to banana bacterial wilts that continue to threaten the banana crop.  Also in pipeline are herbicide tolerant Soybean, drought tolerant Maize among others.