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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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Kigezi In Famine Scare After Drought Hits The Region



Farmers in Rubanda district are living in fear that they may be hit by famine due to the prolonged drought that has greatly affected the area. This comes after the area was hit by heavy rains in the month of May 2023, which left most of the gardens washed away, and since then the dry season has started up to date.

This is the first of its kind for Rubanda district and Kigezi at large to undergo such a prolonged drought.

According to farmers, this is the first of its kind for Rubanda to go through a long drought, adding that they are in fear that they may be hit by famine since they were used to receiving rains at the beginning of August, which is not the case this year. They add that even the seedlings that they had planted excepting that the rains would come have all dried up by the long spell.

Farmers also say that they don’t know what could be the cause that has stopped the rains,adding that the government should come up with a program that provides them with seedlings.

Akampurira Prossy Mbabazi, a woman Member of Parliament for Rubanda District, says that the issue of drought is not only in Rubanda District; however, this is the first of its kind. She adds that the drought comes after the area was hit by heavy rains, which caused a lot of challenges, adding that now it is the drought that may affect the farmers.

Akampurira further says that, as a leader,she will continue to educate farmers on better methods of farming depending on climate change.

Kikafunda Evelyne, founder of Green Environment Promotion (GEP), says it’s sad that farmers in Rubanda district and Kigezi at large are experiencing a long drought. She attributes it to problems of environmental degradation that include swamps being reclaimed, deforestation, and plastic pollution, adding that this is an indication that people don’t mind about the environment.

Kikafunda calls upon all people to take part in protecting the environment, adding that environmentalists should devise means on how to protect the environment.

It’s now been four months since it last rained in the districts of greater Kabale, that is, Rubanda, Kabale, and Rukiga districts, as well as other parts of the Kigezi Subregion.


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Ban GMOs in Africa, farmers urge govts



A cross section of residents from the oil-rich Albertine Region have petitioned African heads of state to ban genetically modified organism (GMOs) and crops across the continent to save Africa’s indigenous crops and animal species from extinction.

The August 26, petition addressed to President William Ruto of Kenya, the Chairperson of the Committee of African Heads of State and Government on Climate Change, asks African heads of states who are meeting this week for Africa Climate Dialogue to pass strong resolutions to ban GMOs.

Africa Climate Dialogue kicks off today in Nairobi, Kenya under the theme “Driving green growth and climate finance solutions for Africa and the World.”

Co-hosted by the Kenya and the African Union Commission, it brings together heads of state and Government, policymakers, civil society organisations, the private sector, multilateral institutions and the youth to design and catalyse actions and solutions for climate change in Africa.

The petitioners under the Uganda Oil Refinery Residents, have made a raft of recommendations including passing a strong resolution to immediately ban the use and promotion of GMO products in African countries, a resolution for promotion of indigenous species of plant seeds and animals in all African states and another resolution to increase budget allocation for agriculture with focus on research in preservation and conservation of indigenous species of plants and animals in Africa.

“This will contribute to knowledge sharing and awareness creation on the relevance of indigenous species as a response to climate change,” the petition recommends, adding: “Lastly, pass resolution to integrate indigenous agriculture practices in education curriculum in some relevant subjects like agriculture and biology in all African countries. This will enable preservation and increased knowledge among the young people on the need to preserve and promote indigenous species.”

The petitioners, drawn from Kabaale and Busheruka sub-counties in Hoima District Uganda where there are planned oil refineries and other infrastructure, say GMOs present a number of risks and their introduction onto the continent could have a huge negative impact on food security, indigenous crops and organisms, health risks and associated problems.

The petitioners say while different African states have made a number of policies, laws and commitments regarding climate change, including integrating the aspect of climate justice into their different state legislations, as a grass root community whose livelihood entirely depends on agriculture, they still believe that leaders have not done enough to respond to these calamities.

“The major concern is about the use and promotion of genetically modified organisms [for both plants and animals] in Africa.

Uganda, whose backbone is agriculture, once known for its indigenous plants and animals now faces many difficulties in dealing with these invasive species. Maintenance and management strategies of these species require a lot of capital in terms of purchasing inputs such as fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides, among others,” the petition reads in part.

The petitioners say with the worsening climate change, the introduction of one season fast maturing plants has made it difficult for farmers to plan. They argue that GMOs, which they claim are invasive species onto the continent, cannot withstand climate change and weather vagaries and therefore increase food insecurity on the continent.

“As earlier stated, these species require many inputs in terms of chemicals like fertilisers, pesticides, herbicides, processed feeds, and vaccines, among others that are all expensive for the ordinary African farmers,” they add in the petition.

The petitioners also contend that in Africa, more than 85 percent of grass root communities heavily rely on rain-fed agriculture and that the ‘invasive species’ are not resistant and not compatible with the local environmental conditions.

“As such, they require effective irrigation as an alternative, which is extremely expensive for grass root communities. Whereas these GMOs were initially introduced as a solution to enhance agricultural productivity and food security, there has been a concerning trend of a financial strain on communities due to the high costs associated with these invasive species,” the petition states.

“Buying seasonal seeds for planting and agricultural inputs to manage these species among others is not sustainable and oftentimes leads to significant drain of limited financial resources within the communities. The local farmers are often compelled to divert funds from other essential needs such as education, healthcare and basic infrastructure development,” the petition adds.

They also say there is an increased outbreak of pests and disease, which is attributed to the increase in temperatures caused by the changing climate. Unfortunately, they say, GMOs are prone to attack by these pests and diseases.

They also say the GMOs present huge health risks to the local communities, who are illiterate and do not understand the precautions to follow while using these pesticides and herbicides.

This, according to the petition, exposes the users to high risks of contracting diseases through ingestion, inhalation, or skin contact that can lead to acute and chronic health related issues.

“These include respiratory diseases, skin irritations, neurological disorders, and even certain types of cancers in the end. Most grass root women are also worried about the consumption of these genetically modified organisms since they are mainly treated with chemicals; others are injected with hormones to increase their shelf-life spans,” the petition states.

Source: Daily Monitor

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NEBBI: Livestock disease kills 14,000 goats



Nebbi, Uganda. The Nebbi district veterinary department is struggling to contain an outbreak of the Contagious Caprine Pleuropneumonia (CCPP), a disease which is highly fatal in cattle and other hoofed animals.

At least 14,650 goats have died and 53,397 goats have been infected following the outbreak of the disease which was first reported in 2022.

According to the local authorities, the disease has since spread to a cross all the sub counties like Erussi, Nebbi ,Alala Jupangira Atego ,Ndhew and Kucwiny as well as Nebbi Municipality.

Moreen Awekonimungu, a livestock farmer in Nebbi Municipality says that she has so far lost three goats since the outbreak was reported a year ago. She further notes that an infected animal dies within two weeks after presenting with signs and symptoms of the disease.

The Contagious Caprine Pleuropneumonia (CCPP) is an infectious disease caused by mycoplasmas and it mostly affects ruminants.

The diseases are transmitted through direct contact and inhalation of droplets from infected animals. Symptoms include fever, nasal discharge, coughing, difficult respiration, edema, and lung tissue abnormalities.

Emmauel Ongeitho, the Nebbi Municipality assistant veterinary officer blames the persistence of the diseases on the poor attitude of farmers against vaccination of their livestock. According to Ongeitho several farmers shunned the mass vaccination exercise which resulted in a spike in livestock deaths.

According to Dr. William Abedkane, the principal veterinary Officer for Nebbi district, the outbreak which started last year has been killing goats silently since farmers are hesitant to report the cases to the veterinary officers in their respective sub counties.

Abedkane further appealed to farmers to pay attention to animal health just like they do with their own health.

According to information from the Minister of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF), the outbreak of Contagious Caprine Pleuropneumonia (CCPP disease was first confirmed in Uganda in 1995 in Karamoja region.

Original Source: URA Via The Independent.

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