Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are plants or animals whose genetic makeup has been modified in a laboratory using genetic engineering or transgenic technology to create combinations of plant and animal genes that do not occur in nature or through traditional crossbreeding methods.
Uganda is one of the target countries for the multinational companies promoting GMOs under the guise of solving food insecurity. There are numerous negative implications of GMOs on both human and environment i.e. loss of genetic diversity, dependency on markets for inputs like herbicides among others.
Many people in Uganda are not aware of GMOs and their implications on the food systems. Debates are going on as to whether GMOs are good for small-scale farmers and if GMOs can address the food crisis. These debates continue to take place without the involvement of small scale farmers and consumers who would be much affected. The small-scale farmers, agricultural practitioners and even policy makers in Uganda are caught up in the middle of this debate and proliferation. Their position is made more challenging by the lack of information, and limited understanding about biotechnology and GMOs. Since 2012, Uganda has been in the process of developing a law regulating GMOs and Parliament of Uganda passed the Genetic Engineering Regulatory Bill 2018 that was formally known as the National Biotechnology and Bio safety Bill 2012. This bill was rejected three times by the president of the Republic of Uganda citing concerns like silence on strict liability in the likelihood of dangers and protection of our organic crops, indigenous varieties and genetic diversity protection and conservation among others. It was until of recent that Kenya lifted a ban on the cultivation and importation of Genetically Modified (GMO) crops when much concern was raised among the other East African Countries about the potential risks to health and the environment due to porous borders. This has therefore called for food safety, quality experts and small-scale farmers’ organizations that opposes the GMO campaign to provide insights and put up a strong position against the introduction of GMOs in other East African Countries.
Failure of Uganda to reject laws that promote GMO in the country would affect the national response to transitioning our food systems to Agroecology. Agroecology is known as an holistic approach to agriculture and food systems that considers the interactions between plants, animals, and the environment, and aims to promote sustainable and resilient food systems which GMO cannot grantee. Evidence has showed that GMO don’t respect the health and well-being of the entire ecosystem, as well as strong and equitable social structures.
ESAFF Uganda on 3rd March 2023, joined other food activists to support Members of Parliament developing/introducing the private members’ bill prohibiting Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in Uganda. The meeting attracted members of parliament, CSO representatives and scientists. The meeting was aimed at strategizing and supporting the Members of Parliament in the development process of introducing the bill. Further, the meeting was to create awareness of the implications of GMOs to MPs and mobilize them to support the Bill prohibiting GMOs in Uganda.
A presentation on the implications and challenges of GMOs was conducted by Dr. Olupoti Gregory a scientist from Makerere University. He shared about the origin of GMOs which was initiated by one powerful family and then turned into a global issue. He mentioned that most of the biodiversity is conserved by the farmers and the safest way to preserve biodiversity is to protect the farmers from GMOs. Dr. Olupot through graphic evidence of some of the challenges of GMOs based on the research conducted took the MPs through the documented pieces. He highlighted that the major concern is that GMOs are not accepted on the global market and when farmers grow them, they will not be able to trade them. He also mentioned that 97% of GMOs are pesticides and not food.
The meeting concluded that brief fact sheets should be produced and shared with MPs to support them understand GMOs and support Dr. Olupot to meet the Members of Parliament and the speaker so that he can share all these details to them. The team resolved that Dr. Olupot meet the president in case the bill is introduced so that he can get an additional support to help him decide as he signs the bill. Hon. Nsaba Butuuro and Hon. Kaaya Christine shall be updating the CSO partners about the committee meetings i.e. Science and Technology, Agriculture, Climate Change, Natural Resources and others to discuss the bill as well as a press conference to be held on Thursday 9th March at 10:00 am at the parliament of Uganda.
On 9th March 2023, a press conference was organized at Parliament led by Hon. Nsaaba Buturo, the lead mover of the bill. Hon. Buturo, stressed that GMOs have significant health damages including damages to immune systems and digestive function, liver problems and potentially pre-cancerous cell growth in the intestines. He further mentioned that, GMOs risk small scale farmers to depend on pesticides in the production of GM foods. He stated that in the United States of America due to adoption of genetically engineered crops, farmers increased herbicide use over time. At the center of debate was the pesticide glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Round Up. Food and Water Watch found that the total volume of glyphosate applied to corn, cotton and soybeans increased ten-fold from 15 million pounds in 1996 to 159 million pounds in 2012. Such high pesticide usage would imply escalation in development of Parkinson’s disease, asthma, depression and anxiety; attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder, and cancer.
During a press conference at Parliament, Bufumbira County East MP, Hon. James Nsaba Buturo, announced the plan to take leave to draft and introduce a bill prohibiting Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). Nsaba Buturo said that Ugandans need to prohibit not regulating any plans to introduce GMOs in the country, saying that GMOs pose health risks as well as a danger to the environment. “We will be making a very strong case in Parliament when the time comes. We know it is going to be a big fight. Those people will use a lot of money but we believe that with God on our side, we shall defeat them." -Hon. Nsaba Buturo added that the Bill shall provide for the phasing out of the already existing GMOs in the country. “GMOs are a disaster. Eminent scientists have said there are no benefits of GMOs. 50 African countries out of 54 have said no to GMOs. So, those who are rushing us to accept them have their agenda.” It should be known that using GMOs is to control food production and enslavement in Uganda. “The threat faced by Uganda is worse than colonization. Ugandans must wake up. The enemy is determined to completely encircle us, make us dependent, make us foolish before human race and we are saying no.”
Mr. Hakim Baliraine, Chairperson ESAFF Board of Directors expressed frustration that “If Europe does not allow GMOs, why should we, without better regulation mechanisms and technology to accept GMOs?” Hakim further alluded to Dr. Olupots’ assertion of the increase of Non-Communicable Diseases due to increased consumption of non-organic products. He added that “GMOs are dangerous to biodiversity and they have the ability to contaminate our organic food.” Mr. Hakim in his last remarks stated that small scale farmers would like MPs to be guided by these words: “whoever controls seeds, controls food, and whoever controls food, controls people and rules the world”
Mr. Allan Ssebulime from CAPCA stated that there are more dangerous issues of terminator technology or suicide seeds which is part of the GMO agenda. He highlighted that GMOs involves restricting the use of genetically modified plants by activating some genes only in response to certain stimuli, especially to cause second generation seeds to be infertile. Mr. Ssebulime posed a question asking what form of food security is envisaged from promoting a scenario where farmers must always rely on supply of seed from agricultural biotechnology companies and that cannot be replanted off their harvested seeds? What if such companies later become too domineering and dictate hurtful terms against them and firm control over food production? Does Uganda yield enough influence on the stage of global food politics to safeguard national food interests in such a scenario? He concluded by such questions are very important questions we must answer.
ESAFF Uganda working closely with other partners and MPs moving the bill commits to continue supporting the process until a food system free of GMOs is achieve. This will further be amplified in the numerous fora like agroecology exhibitions and symposiums.