Scientists in Uganda push for law on GMOs

Saturday April 18 2015

The Kenya biodiversity coalition demonstrates outside Parliament demanding strict adherence to the labelling of GMOs. PHOTO | FILE

The Kenya biodiversity coalition demonstrates outside Parliament demanding strict adherence to the labelling of GMOs. PHOTO | FILE 

By ISAAC KHISA, The EastAfrican

Ugandan scientists are worried that ongoing research on genetically modified crops may have to be put on hold due to lack of a regulatory framework to guide its production.

Andrew Kiggundu, a senior research officer at National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO) said that trials on bananas, cassava, maize and potatoes may have to wait until the National Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill 2012, currently before parliament, is passed into law.

“The delay in passing the law on biotechnology is a serious concern to us because part of the support that we are getting through foreign collaborations could be curtailed, thereby stagnating the research,” Dr Kiggundu said during the launch of the Global Genetically Modified Organisms Report 2014 in Kampala on April 7.

Foreign organisations that Uganda is working with in developing genetically engineered crops include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, United States Agency for International Development (USAid), and universities such as Arizona State University and Cornell University in the US, University of Leeds in the UK, and Queensland University in Australia.

Uganda had planned to commercialise GM cassava by 2016 which would help fight the mosaic virus as well as protect maize against stem borers and produce drought-tolerant varieties by 2017. But the absence of a biotech law stands in the way of these plans.

Uganda has also carried out field trials on bananas to test resistance to the black sigatoka disease (2007-2009). The country is carrying out two trials on banana bio-fortified with vitamin A and iron, and testing resistance to the devastating banana bacterial wilt.