The Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Mr Thomas Tayebwa has argued scientists at the National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO) to forget the proposed Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) law and focus on improving indigenous seeds and animals’ breeds.
A GMO is an animal, plant, or microbe whose DNA has been altered using genetic engineering techniques.
However, the deputy speaker asked NARO to go slow on the proposed law and warned against killing the market for Ugandan products.
“Instead of pushing for the law to legalise GMOs put focus on improving the quality of our indigenous products…our competitive advantage as a country, is in high quality organic products not GMOS,” Mr Tayebwa said.
The deputy speaker made the remarks on Thursday after touring the NARO centre at Namulonge,Gayaza in Wakiso district, where scientists have made several cutting-edge technologies and innovations to improve the agricultural production in Uganda.
“I am one of the people who fought the Bill (National Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill) and I am ready to continue the war I started. This war is in public interest and as a country we must not give up,” Mr Tayebwa said.
In that Bill, explained: “We said let us introduce a strict liability clause so that you (the scientists) are liable when your products cause a problem, you refused because you want to adulterate our organic products.”
He added: “If you want to give us a GMO, there must be a liability clause.”
Mr Tayebwa said this while responding to Prof William Olaho Mukani, the NARO Governing Council Chairman’s request to Parliament to consider the National Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill, commonly known as the GMO Bill, which has not been enactment into law since 2012.
“This Bill has been up and down for long,” Prof Mukani observed before he complained that the people who think they know science more than the scientists are why they are confusing the botched Bill.
“We want the Bill passed to control the GMOs that access our market,” Prof Mukani pleaded before the deputy speaker advised him to go slow on a controversial Bill that seeks to adulterate the country’s seeds and plants.
Mr Tayebwa cautioned the scientists at NARO against being lured into the trap of liabilities resulting into legal battles by copying scientists in the western countries who have started facing consequences for the negative impacts by the GMOs.
The deputy speaker advised that Ugandan scientists to find out why the European Union (EU) member states banned GMO products. He explained that the reason for EU ban was meant to protect the organic foods market from the dangers of GMOS.
“These GMO companies are losing a lot of cases after researchers established that the so-called improved products cause cancer. PLE NARO, we say, don’t be influenced by western research to destroy our indigenous products. How come all countries in Europe don’t allow GMOs and then you want us to have it in Uganda? This is?not right and as scientists you must reconsider your stand on GMOS before it’s too late.”
The deputy speaker however commended NARO for the progress made in other agricultural research fields such as animal feeds and seeds varieties that have been developed over the years. Mr Tayebwa said this a sign that there is value for money appropriated by Parliament.
He also applauded Agriculture Minister, Frank Tumwebaze for transforming the sector by working closely with scientists to ensure the country receives the best animal breeds and seed varieties, an opportunity that now needs to be taken to the commercial stage.
“The Minister of Agriculture at last has helped us. Your journey through agriculture is really true, not that other people were incompetent but see a lot of transformation here. I have not seen any organization that is organised and welcoming like NARO.” he said.
“My coming here is a clear pledge of support. The moment we are food secure and people are making money through agriculture, then the economy will also grow.”
Responding to the request by Dr Swadiq Mugerwa, NARO’s Deputy Director General, Research Coordination, that the funding for research be increased from the current Shs166b to a minimum of Shs300b, Mr Tayebwa said that any proposal to government must have a value for money component because every coin must count.
The deputy speaker challenged NARO to commercialise its innovations by making them available to the farmers so that more funds are generated through the Non-Tax Revenues (NTR) paid by partner organisations.
“In the last financial year, NARO raised only Shs3b in NTR. You have done…you can make more money through research but many of these innovations are just lying in the laboratories. You alone can raise Shs100b of NTR. I don’t know how much your capacity to make partnerships is but you can take this cutting edge technology to the people” the deputy speaker advised.
Minister Tumwebaze applauded the deputy speaker for the visit and explained that money appropriated to scientists is self-accounting because the outputs of such efforts and innovations cannot be audited only on paper but physically as the case is with the work done at NARO.
The minister reiterated that the scientists have always taken their time on research in order to come out with best products like seeds and animal breeds which take not less than nine months to come forth.
“These scientists enjoy working quietly, that is how the ecosystem of researchers works. Here at NARO we have 16 products which can represent 16 industry lines. Perhaps, the Uganda Investment Authority doesn’t know that we have various porotypes (original models) and guide the investors to come and invest in these lines” he said.
Speaking on behalf of the scientists, Dr Mugerwa confirmed that significant work has been done in the development of the Anti-tick vaccine which will come to the delight of the cattle keepers. He also explained that vaccines for foot and mouth disease, and African Swine Fever are going to be developed under the Shs60b government funded facility whose construction and equipping will be completed by April next year.
NARO scientists told deputy speaker that they have made good progress in developing a product that will help farmers to fight aflatoxins in crops like maize so as to end conflicts with other countries in the East African region where Ugandan products have sometimes been denied access.