Uganda sets laws on biotechnology and biosafety: How will farmers and stakeholders benefit?
Posted Wednesday, February 20 2013 at 00:00
After several years in the development stage, the Bill on biotechnology and biosafety is before Parliament. What does it entail and how would the farmers benefit?
Research in Uganda on genetically modified (GM) crops and the use of biotechnology begun more than 20 years ago and the scientists are hoping to release some of these varieties in 2014.
But the biggest challenge for all the stakeholders is the safety measures and how to maintain the quality of these varieties for better output.
But for the scientists to release some of these varieties as planned by 2014, it is necessary for the National Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill to be debated and passed into law.
Biotechnology refers to any technique that uses living organisms or substance from living organisms to modify a product, improve plant, animal breeds or micro-organisms for specific purpose and biosafety means the safe development, transfer, application and utilisation of biotechnology products.
Biotechnology, according to experts, has been used in Uganda for many years by a number of industries processing wine and beer, producing of cheese and yoghurt and leavening of bread, among others.
But modern biotechnology, which involves techniques to transfer genes or modify living organisms, is relatively new.
The Bill, which was drafted more than eight years ago, is now at Parliament for public debate and all interested stakeholders are invited to add in their input.
Ms Susan Nakabuye, a State Attorney at the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, in a presentation about the Bill during the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology, in Kampala, said scientists, seed dealers and other stakeholders will have to observe safety issues because the Bill has stringent clauses on crimes and imposes penalties for those who will fail to follow the safety guidelines.
The offences range from crimes committed by those engaged in research of genetically modified crops and animals releasing their varieties without submitting them to the approval committee. These face a jail term of five years or penalty of 120 currency points, which amounts to Shs2.4m or both.
Health and environment
A person who fails to disclose information about his or her research will be liable on conviction to a fine of not exceeding 48 currency points (Shs960,000) or imprisonment not exceeding 24 months or both
Other punishments range from those using a GM product in a manner, which contravenes the legal procedures under the specific Act and those who use them to harm or injure human health and the environment.
Other offences are committed by individuals and some by corporate authorities, who will face the same crime penalties as prescribed by the required clause. Much of the confidential business information including research procedures will be regulated by the biosafety committee, which is hosted by the Uganda National Council for Science and Technology (UNCST).
In terms of laboratory tests, scientists will be required to follow the set stages which include, laboratory experiment, and tests done in green houses, field testing and testing for safety and risk assessment and for each stage an approval permit has to be sought from the biosafety committee.
According to Ms Nakabuya, the Bill provides for export, import and transit approval of GM products and a person who imports, exports and transits a GM product without approval will face jail term not exceeding five years and fine not exceeding 120 currency points (Shs2.4m) or both.
“For these rules and regulations to work efficiently, those who drafted the bill gave a provision for investigating and inspection personnel to be part of the team in order to carry out their duty at any one given time. This therefore requires the general public to actively participate in scrutinising the contents of the bill for purposes of making reasonable additions as well as subtract what they think is irrelevant,” she said.