The Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA) has commended Ugandan President, Yoweri Museveni, for his assertive stand on genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
On Tuesday, August 27, 2019, Museveni for the second time declined to sign a controversial genetic engineering regulatory bill into law, citing safety and security concerns.
Museveni sent the bill back to parliament with new proposed amendments and asked lawmakers to take a closer look at some of the issues that concern him.
AFSA, in an open letter on Monday, September 2, expressed appreciation to the Ugandan leader for his firm stand on genetic engineering.
“On behalf of the millions of African smallholder farmers, fisher folk, pastoralists, hunter-gatherers and consumers, we the undersigned take this opportunity to express our appreciation for your continued and strong stand on the Genetic Engineering Regulatory Act (GERA),” AFSA stated.
The president had said in a letter that lawmakers should review the use of poisonous and dangerous viruses and bacteria, use of GMO materials and seeds, benefits sharing between the breeder, innovator and indigenous community, among others.
“We must have a law that allows our scientists to carry out research and make scientific breakthroughs,” Museveni said in a letter read out by Parliament Speaker Rebecca Kadaga, adding at the same time it should safeguard the ecology and diversity of the country as well as the interests of ordinary people who depend on the land for their sustenance.
“I do understand that there are large commercial interests behind the promotion of this technology. I welcome those interests. These commercial interests however need to be balanced against the needs to protect the ordinary Ugandan ordinary citizens from real or potential harm. Health and wellbeing rather than profits must be our primary concern,” he said.
AFSA’s commendation letter further reads:
We recognise and assure you that the concerns you raise that “the issue of GMOs and genetic modification of our seeds and livestock touches not only on Science but Agriculture, Ecology, Food & National Security and, indeed, the sovereignty of our nation” are valid.
You have added your voice to a rising tide of concern about Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in other countries within and beyond Africa. The government of Zimbabwe recently declared its continued stand against introducing GMOs in their country with a major concern on their impact on the environment. The government of the Republic of Kenya has also continued to maintain its ban on any importation of GMOs, and Burkina Faso is yet to recover from the GM Cotton fiasco that has caused insurmountable losses to farmers.
We particularly recognise and bring attention to the following issues in your letter to Parliament:
Strict Liability which will protect peasant farmers by ensuring that: “manufacturers, inventors and introducers of genetic modified or engineered products must ensure that their products are safe and as such, accept strict liability in case the product does cause harm.”
Use of Glyphosate. It is common knowledge that farmers in Uganda and other parts of the continent continue to use glyphosate, therefore, “the need to protect fertile soils from chemical contamination,” is a welcome call in the right direction.
The call “to proceed with caution” on GE technologyincluding“gene editing and other modern biotechnology methods which are still the subject of much debate around the world.” We recognize that Africa is gradually being introduced to new and untested biotechnologies involving gene editing and gene silencing. This is a real threat in countries like South Africa and Nigeria.
The concern that “the commercial interests promoting genetic engineering need to be balanced against the need to protect the ordinary Ugandan Citizen from real and potential harm. Health and wellbeing rather than profit, must be our primary concern.”
AFSA doesn’t take the struggle against GE lightly; your stand has renewed our strength and commitment to protect, conserve and safeguard Africa’s agricultural sector from selfish economic interests.
Our firmly held expectation is that the Parliament of Uganda will heed your strong words of caution and make the necessary changes you recommend to the Genetic Engineering Regulatory Act 2018 for the protection of the environment and the wellbeing of Ugandans and African citizens at large.
We also urge leaders and lawmakers across the continent to take heed and provide regulatory frameworks that protect and serve the interests of their people.
A GMO bill was first passed in October 2017. Museveni rejected to sign the bill out of concerns that indigenous seeds, which Ugandan farmers have developed for years, would be negatively impacted.
Although the Constitution provides for the bill to be passed into law if the president returns it for the second time, Kadaga noted that Museveni raised important issues that may require reconsideration.
“I will be giving this (Museveni) letter to the committee (science, technology and innovation) to look at it again, together with the bill,” said Kadaga.
There is a heated debate globally over the use of GMOs, with proponents arguing that those organisms have the potential to boost food, fuel and fiber production, which will accelerate economic growth and foreign exchange earnings.
Opponents of the law argue that since the technology comes from developed countries, there are varied interests which may be veiled with ill intentions.