Prof. Calestous Juma

Uganda’s delay to enact a law regulating the application of genetically modified organisms is likely to have more disastrous effects on humans and the environment.

Erostus Nsubuga, the proprietor of Agrobiotech Laboratories Ltd, says more research firms in biotechnology are targeting Uganda at a time when the sector is not well guarded.

Nsubuga, the first African to commercialize an aspect of biotechnology by producing tissue cultured banana planting materials, says through tissue culture he has been able to quickly produce banana, coffee and pineapple plants for local and international markets.

Giving an example of Coffee affected by the coffee wilt disease, Nusbuga says it could take many years through conventional breeding to produce the planting materials needed to replace those affected by the disease.

Nsubuga, the fist Ugandan to own an agricultural research firm, says the country could end up in a disastrous scenario if usually consumed crops continue to be affected by diseases that cannot be cured by conventional breeding other than biotechnology.

He says the absence of a law to regulate some of the genetically modified organism (GMO) work going on in laboratories could expose Ugandans to bigger a crisis given the reality that GM crops will inevitably cross into the country.

He says the issue of genetically modified crops is now a controversial one but Ugandans should be mindful that the increasing population together with the change of climate will require scientific solutions for massive food. Besides he says food is likely to be the biggest source of revenue in the near future.

Early in March, government began to consider the biotechnology and bio-safety bill, pushing to have it enacted into law. Like elsewhere in the world, the bill has generated debate in Uganda with some of the activists fearing the introduction of GMOs is likely to have health and environmental effects on Ugandans.

Other people have said the introduction of GMOs is likely to change the smell and taste of some of the indigenous food crops.

Dr. Titus Alicai, an expert on plant viruses and a cassava breeder at National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO), said fears that the plants generated through genetic modification would lose their original taste shouldn’t be an issue. He explains that scientists normally look at taste and smell as one of the attributes when breeding crops for commercialization.

Alicai says the breeds being developed now are for the current and future generations whose tastes may vary. He says it is likely that the tomato taste now was not like the one consumed 50 or one hundred years ago.

Uganda is a signatory to the 2003 Cartagena Protocol which mandates all parties to ensure adequate protection in the field of safe transfer, handling and use of living modified organisms resulting from biotechnology. The proposed law, however, is intended to facilitate massive introduction of genetically modified crops in the country.

The bill is still in parliament.




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