Uganda's Parliament has passed the National Biosafety Bill 2017, which allows farmers to have access to genetically engineered products.
The Bill will now be forwarded to President Yoweri Museveni for assent.
The enactment sets the stage for products that are still under confined field trials in the country to proceed to open field trials before they are commercialised.
The Bill addresses safety of biotechnology, which involves techniques that use living organisms to make or modify a product, and improve plants, animals, or micro-organisms for specific uses. It also caters for modern biotechnology, as applied in environmental management, industry, and agriculture, as well as ethics in biotechnology research, development, and utilisation.
Whereas there has been controversy over agricultural biotechnology from sections of Uganda’s civil society, it is widely applied in the country in the medical, industrial and environmental management sectors.
The manufacturing sector already utilises applications of GM technology for detergents, enzymes, and mineral extraction.
The Bill is not restricted to regulation of agricultural biotechnology. Clauses 31 and 32 cover the liability of persons whose actions cause damage to human health, the environment, society, including measures to restore the conditions to as near as possible to the state they were in before any damage occurred.
Researchers in Uganda are currently undertaking agricultural biotechnology research on food security crops, like banana, for resistance against bacterial wilt and improved nutrition, cassava for resistance to cassava brown streak and cassava mosaic disease, and maize for drought resistance.
Other crops under research include rice for more effective use of nutrients and increased productivity, sweet potato for resistance to pests, and Irish potato for resistance to potato blight.
Uganda passed the Biotechnology and the Biosafety Policy in 2008 after it had ratified the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety in 2002. GMO field trials in Uganda are currently being conducted under the National Council of Science and Technology Act, under which Uganda established the National Biosafety Committee (NBC) supervise GMO activities.