Monday September 4 2017

Open letter to the President on the Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill 2012

Young plantation (6months old) arising from planting tissue culture seedlings. Photo by Arthur Makara

A 6months old plantation arising from planting tissue culture seedlings. 

By Arthur Makara

I would like to appreciate your continuous, relentless efforts to harness science, technology and innovation in Uganda for socio-economic transformation. We scientists appreciate your recent intervention by the creating of a fully-fledged ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MoTI). As the ministry puts its foot on the ground, it needs your continuous support to build this sector that is a cornerstone of Uganda’s transformation into a middle status economy in the near future.
Unfortunately, those that are opposed to this Bill include Cabinet ministers. I wonder whether they know this Bill is to operationalise a government policy - The National Biotechnology and Biosafety Policy, that was approved by Cabinet in 2008.
Moreover, some them are in cohorts with foreign forces led by one Opiyo Oloya based in Toronto, Canada who irrespective of living in a country that has immensely developed due to technological advancements, fails to appreciate and let alone borrow progressive lessons for Uganda from what goes on around him. He only choses to advance the interests of a the bourgeoisie of the developed world whose hidden interest is to keep Africa poor through the “organic” and small-scale farmer movements.
Oloya and his extensions in Uganda, the anti-science activist groups, are now thrown in a state of confusion because of your clear supportive position of the enactment of the National Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill into law. They thrive on spreading misinformation to the largely ignorant and gullible members of the public, including some MPs. They do not understand that it is scientific advancements that transform societies. It is the science outcomes from China, India, Korea, USA, Brazil, Europe and India that we consume on a daily basis, making our economies in Africa very weak due to hemorrhage of our currencies.
We need home-grown scientific, technological and innovation revolution to wean ourselves from dependency on foreign simple technologies, and to strengthen our currency through more local consumption and exports. We are markets for the developed economies thus supporting the anti-progress propaganda.
I appreciate your recent interest in supporting youth groups, to sharpen their skills and to improve on quality of home-made products. That is the right way to go in the direction of transformation. Mr President, Oloya published a veiled article against the National Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill on Wednesday, July 26 in the New Vision covering it with the Tea estates in Kabarole and Kyenjojo preferring to call it organic Ugandan tea.
He made a false and scientifically disputable claim that ‘drink Ugandan tea, live longer.’ Whereas this could be potentially true, he has no capacity to generate data to support this claim. It has to be scientists to do it yet he does not trust them.
For that brand to stand, it has to be backed by scientific evidence as other countries will protest against it. Moreover, I got surprised that Oloya could appreciate large-scale commercial farming of any crop yet he is a champion of small-scale, his grand-mother chicken type of agriculture. He and his anti-science allies are vehemently opposed to large-scale commercial farming preferring to call it mono-culture yet Uganda policy is to transform from subsistence to commercial agriculture. So, which policy are they advancing?
Now had Oloya forgotten that the tea he was praising is a monoculture? He knows that you are too informed to be confused with his rhetoric, and that is why he is veiling his propaganda against the National Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill 2012 under Mukwano and Igara tea.
He also knows that Ugandan tea is not organic, if we go by the definition of the global organic movement. The tea estate owners have not claimed that their tea is organic, but he is pushing that narrative to fit his ill-conceived interests. The tea estates owners apply fertilizers, spray against tea diseases tea leaf rot caused by fungi Corticium invisum and C. thae), the tea red leaf rust caused by fungus Cephalarus mycoidea, black root caused by fungus Rosellina areuata. These are controlled by use spraying with of large quantities of fungicides. Tea also has pests and vermin such as mites, leafhoppers, aphids and snakes that are controlled through spraying of pesticides and acaricides. These sprays are done at regular intervals or as and when such diseases and pests become rampant.
Ugandan tea is, therefore, referred to as conventional tea in the organic world. And the biotech revolution that Oloya and his allies in Uganda are fighting has the potential to make the Ugandan tea to be grown more organically - particularly if diseases and pests of tea are addressed through breeding of quicker maturing, disease resistant and robust tea verities, lesser pests and fungicides will be used on it.
The primary strategy of Oloya and some uninformed leaders is to block any opportunity for this to be realised in order to serve their private interests. Mr President, we in the science world appreciate the fact that you understand the intentions of such groups and individuals.
We acknowledge and appreciate the remarks in support of science the science of biotechnology that you made when you opened the 25th Source of the National Agricultural and Trade show in Jinja on Tuesday July 18, 2017.
We are comforted by the fact that with your foresighted leadership, the farmers’ will soon start benefiting from the efforts of your scientists through crop improvement after that enactment of the National Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill into law that will guide and regulate their work. Oloya the expert of everything and his anti-science allies should be ignored for a brighter future of Uganda.
For God and My Country.

Mr Makara is the executive director Science Foundation for Livelihoods and Development