What happened to the genetic engineering bill?

Saturday May 25 2019

 

By Michael J. Ssali

Due to its geographical location (along the equator) Uganda is said to be a hot spot for crop and animal diseases. The country’s agriculture is beset with devastating challenges that also include soil depletion and a rapidly increasing population to feed.
The onset of climate change has resulted in unpredictable weather conditions that make farming riskier than before.

Today we are host to previously unknown pests and diseases that have no cure. It is harder than ever before to produce key food crops such as bananas, sweet potatoes, cassava, Irish potatoes, maize, and rice, among others.
To address the problems the government of Uganda in the late nineties decided to resort to modern biotechnology.

According to the Uganda Biosciences Information Centre (UBIC) some 150 Ugandan scientists in at least five public institutions under Naro are conducting biotechnology research on crops with funding from the government and development partners.
Uganda is known to have the most crops under confined field trials for Genetically Engineered (GM) crops in the region.

More than Shs250b have been spent and a lot of success has been made. The scientists now have bred Genetically Engineered varieties of cassava, banana, Irish potatoes, maize and other crops varieties that are resistant to the dreaded diseases and conditions.

However, the crop varieties cannot be passed on to farmers to grow because the government, which actually funded the research, is taking too long to come up with the necessary regulatory law for growing the crops.

The National Biotechnology and Bio-safety Bill 2012 has been with Parliament for so long that questions are being asked why so much effort has been put in the biotechnology research if we are not ready to take advantage of its products.
In 2017 Parliament passed it. The president returned it to Parliament over some unclear clauses.

Parliament reportedly fixed the clauses but it is not certain if the Bill went back to the President for signing.
Arthur Makara, a commissioner in the Ministry of Science and Technology told journalists in Kampala last week, “We are not even sure it reached President’s Office.”

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