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Museveni’s GMO law dilemma



Kampala, Uganda | RONALD MUSOKE | Six months since Parliament passed a revised Genetic Engineering Bill, 2018, that included demands by President Yoweri Museveni, he has not signed it into law. But he has also not written to Parliament to explain why.

This is the latest saga over a Bill that started out seven years ago as the National Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill, 2012.

Since then, although almost everyone wants a biotechnology law, there has been tension between those for and against specific provisions in the Bill.

So when Parliament passed the Genetic Engineering Regulatory Bill, 2018, in November last year, it attracted celebration and frustration in equal measure.

Civil society, farmers’ groups, women and trade policy organisations, consumer groups, and environmentalists issued a joint communiqué last December thanking Parliament for “addressing their long standing concerns in the Bill.” But the science community of researchers did not want it.

It was a dramatic reversal from when the first Biosafety Bill was passed on Oct. 04, 2017. That was celebrated by the science community of researchers but civil society activists did not want it. They were happy when the President declined to assent to it and returned it to parliament.

In a letter addressed to the Speaker of Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga, in December, 2017, Museveni insisted on a change in the Bill’s title, provisions on patent rights on indigenous farming products, and sanctions for scientists who mix GMOs with indigenous crops and animals.

Most of these were demands of civil society activists and they celebrated the passing of a revised version in November last year. But the scientists were unhappy. And now the President has neither signed it into law nor rejected it.

Arthur Makara, the Commissioner in charge of Science Advancement and Outreach at the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation confirmed to The Independent that the ministry is yet to get any guidance or directive in regards to the law that seeks to regulate biotechnology in the country.

“We are waiting for the President’s signature for us to implement the law,” he said.

Politics at play

The President’s silence has caused confusion, anxiety, and speculation among government officials, scientists, and farmers for and against biotechnology.

“My thinking is that perhaps the president is buying time. He fears appending a signature on a bill that is not political but is somewhat controversial,” Arthur Tugume, an associate professor of plant pathology and genetics at the Department of Plant Sciences, Microbiology and Biotechnology in Makerere University told The Independent.

He added: “This is not a political bill but politics seems to be at play”.

Lee Denis Oguzu, the MP for Maracha County in northwestern Uganda and Shadow Minister of Science, Innovation and Communication Technology told The Independent on May 15 that it is unclear why President Museveni has not acted. He said, however, the law gives the President in excess of 45 days within which to assent or revert to Parliament.

Uganda’s Constitution demands that when the president fails to sign or return a bill to Parliament within 30 days, “the President shall be taken to have assented to the Bill and at the expiration of that period, the Speaker shall cause a copy of the Bill to be laid before Parliament and the Bill shall become law without the assent of the President.”

When asked about it, the Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, Dr. Elioda Tumwesigye, referred The Independent to either the Speaker of Parliament or the Clerk to Parliament.

“The Clerk to Parliament or the Speaker must know what is going on,” he said. But when The Independentcontacted the office of the Speaker, they refused to comment.

Esther Mbayo, the Minister in charge of the Office of the President told The Independent that the Bill is on the President’s table.

“What do you want me to do? You want me to ask him to sign it?” Mbayo said.

Don Wanyama, the Senior Press Secretary to President Museveni told The Independent on May 17 that he needed to physically crosscheck with the president’s Principal Private Secretary to see if the Bill was signed or not.

When The Independent talked to the activists, they said President Museveni must sign the version now on his desk. They said it is better than the one he rejected in December 2017. But some were equally unsure if Museveni would sign the new version into law.

“We know that a lot of politics happens in between Parliament up to the point when the law is gazetted,” said Agnes Kirabo, the executive director of Food Rights Alliance, a Kampala-based non-profit.

“We have experiences where things are agreed on the floor of Parliament and by the time the actual Act is gazetted, some of the clauses have been thrown out of the window.”

“At the moment, we believe it is a very good step forward because this law has a strict liability and redress mechanism.”

The activists were particularly happy with the liability and redress mechanism clauses which stipulate that the advancement of modern technology requires a precautionary approach in addressing safety issues.

The strict liability provision places legal liability on whoever introduces a GMO product for any damage caused as a result of the product or process of developing it.

“Globally there is consensus that this is not a safe technology and Uganda being a poor country with incompetent institutions that are not strong enough to really safeguard us, we must have a law that safeguards us,” Kirabo told The Independent on May 16.

The revised version also covered “benefit sharing” which protects the rights of the communities because, civil society says, Africa is facing an onslaught of GMO developers who take indigenous seed and patent them without recognizing the rights of farmers.

The law calls for a comprehensive labelling and liability traceability system whereby the promoter of GMO products must label the products sufficiently, including the product’s relevant traits and characteristics to enable traceability.

All genetically engineered material will also have to be labelled, with the phrase: “Contains genetically engineered material,” to help consumers exercise their right to choose products free from GMOs.

A provision on co-existence of farming practices was also included in the Bill, noting that a person who cultivates any GMO shall prevent contamination or co-mingling of GMO crop with indigenous crops. Any person who keeps or owns genetically modified livestock shall prevent cross-breeding between genetically modified and non-genetically modified livestock.

Critics of biotechnology say it is a “selfish” technology which goes against the social norms of African farmers who for generations have depended and shared seed yet this technology is capable of wiping out indigenous seed.

Source: The Independent 

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National Coffee Forum Petitions Parliament Over UCDA Merger



Coffee stakeholders through National Coffee Forum say UCDA merger will disrupt the coffee sub-sector. Coffee is one of the leading sources of foreign exchange for Uganda

Coffee stakeholders through the National Coffee Forum – Uganda (NCF – UG) has petitioned Parliament through the Speaker over the proposed mainstreaming of Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA) into Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF)

The government plans to merge a number of Agencies to the line Ministries in a move aimed at saving about Shs1 trillion annually. If the move succeeds, UCDA will be taken to MAAIF.

However, coffee stakeholders through NCF – UG say that they find the proposal to take UCDA to MAAIF untenable and detrimental to the coffee sub-sector.

NCF-UG is a private foundation whose membership includes farmers, processors, exporters, roasters, brewers and researchers, among others.

The Forum Chairperson Francis Wakabi says that mainstreaming the entity will negatively affect the achievements Uganda has attained in coffee production and export.

“This decision will negatively affect our access to the international market and will stunt Uganda’s economic growth opportunities by distorting the functions of UCDA that have stabilized the industry over the years,” said Wakabi in a petition dated February 21, 2024. The petition was copied in to the Chairperson of Parliament’s Committee on Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries as well as all MPs.

He adds that Uganda should not risk its achievements by tampering with UDCA that is the main contributor to our coffee success story.

“Mainstreaming it would therefore disrupt the many livelihoods that depend on the industry and adversely affect the badly needed foreign exchange for the country,” the petition reads in part.

As a result of UCDA coffee regulation, Wakabi says that Uganda’s competitiveness was elevated on the global market, ensuring high quality Uganda coffee and enabling Uganda’s coffee to displace that of Brazil and India in Italy and UK coffee markets.

“… World over, coffee is supervised and regulated by a specialized body like UCDA for purposes of institutional memory and specialized focus. Experience from Ethiopia and Kenya who disbanded their specialized coffee authorities and mainstreamed them back into the relevant ministries had to reverse their decisions after registering negative outcomes,” said Wakabi.

The Forum further says that the European Union (EU) buys over 60% of Uganda coffee, making it the biggest market for Uganda.

“The EU has introduced a new regulation called the EU deforestation regulations (EUDR) which bans export of coffee from deforested land, taking effect from 2025. This calls for farmer traceability and the EU commission in Uganda is already working with UCDA to implement the said regulations. They require a country to constantly monitor deforested areas and map all the farmers for purposes of implementation of the farmer traceability program to maintain a high standard of quality. It was reported that Uganda has achieved most of the requirements under the EUDR and required a few steps to be declared compliant. Monitoring and implementing the scheme for the millions of farmers is a tedious activity which requires a specialized unit that can be best implemented using the already established structures of UCDA. Disrupting the current UCDA structure will not only halt the progress made in achieving compliance, but also risk reversing the gains made,” added Wakabi.

He avers that UCDA has been able to greatly contribute to Uganda’s improved Coffee quality through implementation of programs such as certification of Coffee nurseries to ensure quality of planting materials, Provision of Coffee specific extension services and agronomy to improve production and productivity, Provision of technical expertise in Coffee rehabilitation, post-harvest handling practices and pest and disease management and provision of coffee processing equipment like wet mills to farmers and cooperatives to improve quality and promote value addition. The coffee stakeholders are worried that once UCDA is taken to MAAIF which is loaded with many crops and projects, coffee, a key source of foreign exchange for Uganda may not get the necessary priority. Coffee stakeholders argue that if indeed Parliament is a people-centred institution, it should listen to the views of farmers and other stakeholders and retain UCDA as a semi-autonomous agency.

“Given the above position with the attendant reasons, the NCF advises that the proposed mainstreaming of UCDA into MAAIF should not be implemented and that the proposed Bill No. 30 (part VII) be dropped in order not to disrupt the industry and the progress made under the stewardship of UCDA. All coffee stakeholders are unanimously in agreement with this position,” reads the petition in part.


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Govt to import 10 million vaccines to control cattle disease



Entebbe, Uganda.  Government is set to import 10 million doses of vaccines to enable scaling up of ring vaccination as the fight to eradicate Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) in Ugandan cattle enters a new phase.

Cabinet chaired by President Yoweri Museveni on Monday also proposed that once ring vaccination is complete, farmers start paying for the FMD vaccines in a compulsory vaccination scheme, and thereafter, trade in animal products, will be restricted to those adhering to the plan.

Minister of Agriculture, Animal industry and Fishers Frank Tumwebazwe on Monday shared the resolutions after Cabinet laid out strategies to contain the disease that has hit 36 districts.

Cabinet agreed to create a revolving fund to enable procurement of sufficient FMD vaccines to facilitate compulsory bi-annual vaccination of the susceptible domestic animal population. It also approved a plan for farmers to pay for the vaccines while government covers other costs.

“Vaccination is to be made compulsory. Proof of vaccination will be a precondition for any farmer to sell any animal products,” said Minister Tumwebazwe.

“I appeal to fellow livestock farmers and stakeholders to understand and appreciate these effort as we steadily move to eradicate FMD in Uganda just like other animal diesases like rinderpest wre eradicated.”

Ntoroko veterinary disease surveillance team conducting FMD surveillance and sample collection

The 36 districts currently affected and under quarantine are Budaka, Bukedea, Bukomansimbi, Bunyangabu, Butaleja, Fortportal City, Gomba, Ibanda, Isingiro, Kabarole, Kasanda, Kayunga, Kazo, Kiboga, Kibuku, Kiruhura, Kumi, Kyankwanzi, Kyegegwa, Kyotera, Luuka, Lwengo, Lyantonde, Mbarara, Mbarara City, Mityana, Mpigi, Mubende, Nakaseke, Nakasongola, Namisindwa, Ngora, Ntungamo, Rakai, Rwampara and Sembabule.

All districts neighboring the affected districts are at high risk, under strict surveillance, and the authorities have been advised to remain vigilant.

These include Apac, Amolatar, Bugiri, Bushenyi, Butaleja, Hoima, Iganga, Jinja, Kabale, Kaberamaido, Kaliro, Kamuli, Kamwenge, Katakwi, Kasese, Kibaale, Kiboga, Kyenjojo, Mbale, Masindi, Mayuge, Mukono, Namalemba, Nakapiripirit,
Palisa, Rukungiri, Sironko, Wakiso and Soroti.

Tumwebaze assured farmers that in the next one or two months, his Ministry expects to receive and dispatch 2.3 million doses of the FMD vaccine to the affected and susceptible districts for ring vaccination scale-up.

He told parliament earlier that as a way of increasing availability of Foot and Mouth Disease vaccines in the country,
Uganda’s National Agiculture Research Organisation (NARO) has started the process of formulating and developing an FMD vaccine for Uganda.

Source: The independent

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Farmers losing Shs4 trillion due to livestock diseases



ScienceDirect has revealed that farmers in Uganda lose more than $1.1b (Shs4.1 trillion) in aggregated annual direct and indirect loss due to the rising spread of tick-borne animal challenges, with the commonest and economically damaging tick-borne disease being the East Coast Fever.

The livestock industry in Uganda and its productivity continue to be threatened by a number of diseases many of which are tick-borne related.

This, Dr Anna Rose Ademun, the Ministry of Agriculture commissioner animal health, said results from arcaricides that have become resistant, thus the need to ensure collaboration and get solutions to the problem.

“There are ongoing efforts by the Agriculture Ministry, in collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organisation to support diagnosis of tick resistance to acaricides at regional laboratory centres but this is not enough,” she said during the livestock industry key stakeholders meeting in Kampala, which had been convened to discuss and prioritise areas for tick control.

The stakeholders included veterinarians, extension staff, farmers, processors and government representatives.

Ministry of Agriculture is already working on the Managing Animal Health and Acaricides for a Better Africa Initiative, which seeks to, among others, provide sustainable solutions to enable small-scale farmers maximise the potential of their cattle by developing and practicing methods that can successfully manage tick infections in cattle.

During the meeting, the TickAcademy App, which will support farmers in managing tick infestations was also pre-launched.

By the end of January, farmers and extension workers will be able to access the app’s educational content, which includes simple-to-watch films, to help them become knowledgeable about tick control.

Mr Enrique Hernández Pando, the GALVmed head of commercial development and impact, said the Managing Animal Health and Acaricides for a Better Africa Initiative will be important in tackling acaricide resistance challenges as well as help farmers and animal health officers to access creative methods of addressing the problem of acaricide resistance.

During the meeting, stakeholders jointly agree to train and sensitise field staff and farmers about tick management strategies that work, as well as strengthen the diagnostic infrastructure and testing capabilities for tick resistance and other animal health-related concerns.

Others will involve making it easier for farmers to obtain credit from savings institutions run by farmer groups at a reasonable cost so they may purchase specialized equipment for applying pesticides.

Mr Nishal Gunpath, the Elanco Animal Health country director south and sub-Saharan Africa, said they will support the Initiative to drive livestock in a better direction, noting that it will also help small-scale livestock farmers to maximise their potential.

Original Source: Daily Monitor

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