GMOs: Give farmers a chance to speak out

Friday March 02 2018
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Emma Naluyima

Genetically Modified Organisms, also known as GMOs, remain one of the most hotly debated topics in agriculture both locally and internationally. To those not familiar with the topic, GMOs can be crops or animals that are developed through newer methods of plant breeding such as genetic engineering.

Through this method, basing on the genetic make-up of an organism, breeders can precisely take a desirable characteristic found in nature and transfer it from one organism to another, or sometimes make an improvement to an existing characteristic within an organism.
In Uganda, this method has been used by scientists at National Agricultural Research Organization (Naro) to develop crops such as bananas that are resistant to banana bacterial wilt, and maize tolerant to drought conditions.

Just like elsewhere in the world where GMOs crops have been developed, Uganda in recent years has been a battle ground for activism for and against this technology.
Proponents of GMOs have mostly been public sector scientists from organisations such as Naro, Makerere University, and a science-based NGOs, with claims that the technology has a competitive advantage over other tools in addressing problems of pests and diseases, climate change, soil infertility.

However, opponents of GMOs, mostly civil society organisations and individual concerned scientists, claim that Uganda should be slow at embracing this technology until all risks associated with it are fully known.
These good or bad debates on GMOs have been characterised by a lot of emotion, misinformation, exaggeration, distortion of facts, and conspiracies. While farmers remain an important stakeholder category to benefit or lose from GMOs, their voices in these debates are seldom heard.

And because actual farmers are too busy on their farms to be part of these debates, arm-chair farmers and NGOs claiming to represent farmers have jumped on this activism.
This is not to blame those who have rightfully represented farmers’ opinion, but those who have misrepresented farmers’ views for their own interests.

As someone who has been farming for more than 12 years, I wish to add my voice to the GMO discussion. My opinion here is not to represent any farmers’ views, but is purely based on my experience as a farmer on one-acre farm limited, found in Entebbe Kawuku. I started farming way back in 2006, after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in veterinary medicine.
My professional background has put me in a privileged position to deal with agricultural challenges in a way that could be different from an ordinary farmer.

In just a space of one-acre, I practice more than seven enterprises (pig production, cattle, aquaculture, vegetables, Matooke, poultry and vermiculture) using an integrated farming approach, where both traditional and modern technologies are used.
As a farmer, I strive to use the best approach that can help in addressing a certain challenge at a time. For example, I use maggot culture and vermiculture, because it is the most effective in dealing with challenges of nutritious feed for both chickens and fish, aquaponics to comfortably rare tilapia. Sometimes the challenges are too daunting that there is no single best technology but a combination of many.

As a farmer, therefore, all I look for in any given technology, is whether it can solve current challenges I am facing or suiting the needs of the market I am targeting. If a GMO has a certain characteristic that can solve a challenge on my farm, I will gladly embrace it.
I am deeply concerned that the current discussion in Parliament on GMOs might result into a restrictive law, which might make it hard for farmers to have access to them. This is not fair to farmers.
All I would like to see as a farmer is a law that allows me access to different farming technologies. This is my kind request to Parliament of Uganda.


Ms Naluyima is a farmer and social entrepreneur.

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