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Friday, 31 May 2013

Battle over Mosanto’s GMOs in Uganda : Civil society petition EALA over biosafety Bill

The bill is meant to provide mechanisms to regulate research, development and generate release of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).


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Civil society petition EALA over biosafety Bill

Publish Date: May 31, 2013

By Moses Walubiri

Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) have petitioned the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) to use its political and diplomatic leverage to cause an overhaul of Uganda’s Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill, 2012.

The CSOs want the Bill to reflect Uganda’s commitment to international conventions on GMOs like the Convention on Biological Diversity, International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources and Farmers’ Rights.

The contentious Bill currently under scrutiny by the Science and Technology committee of the Ugandan parliament is meant to provide mechanisms to regulate research, development and generate release of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). 

In their petition to the regional parliament’s committee of Agriculture Tourism and Natural Resources on Thursday, the 62 CSOs under their umbrella body – Food Rights Alliance – contend that the biosafety bill in its current form will make Uganda’s food security subservient to the whims of external market forces.

Raising doubts about the need for GMOs in a country like Uganda with enough arable land and abundant water supply, the National Coordinator of Food Rights Alliance, Agnes Kirabo, said the bill does not adequately safeguard against the health and safety challenges associated with GMOs.

“We implore you to use your powers to help shape the draft law under scrutiny,” Kirabo said, adding, “GMOs will become a real security threat because our farmers will become dependent on Multinational seed companies like Monsanto as traditional healthy foods vanish.”

According to Dr. Giregon Olupot of Makerere University’s College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences and Daniel Maingi – a former Monsanto employee, peasants will be obligated to buy expensive patented seeds every season, thus pushing millions below the bread line.

EALA MPs Dan Kidega and Christophe Bazivamo said the need to protect organic crop and animal varieties ought to be deemed a strategic issue.

“We intend to draft a template law at a regional level to regulate GMOs in the East African Community,” Kidega said. 

Although Tanzania, Rwanda and Kenya have already drafted laws to regulate GMOs, any law drafted by EALA takes precedence according to the protocol on the establishment of the community.

The bulk of Uganda’s agricultural products find market in the European Union which has a strict legal framework regulating GMOs.

With the State Minister for Planning, Matia Kasaija, recently informing MPs on the National Economy committee that enacting the Biosafety Bill into law is “an obligation and not a choice,” Uganda has a catch-22 situation on its hands.


Statement on the Bio safety and Biotechnology Bill 2012

Food Rights Alliance (FRA)

20 February 2013

Submission to the Parliamentary Committee on Science and Technology

We, the members of the Food Rights Alliance (FRA), an alliance over 60 international, national and community based organisations and individuals are writing to express our views and opinions on the proposed national law on Biosafety and Biotechnology (2012 Draft). FRA spearheaded by Southern and Eastern African Trade Information and Negotiations Institute-Uganda (SEATINI-Uganda)  and Participatory Ecological Land Use Management-Uganda appreciates the efforts by Government for developing and putting in place a National Biotechnology and Bio safety policy (2008), to guide and ensure the safe development and application of tools of modern biotechnology.

We thank the parliamentary committee on science and technology for giving us the opportunity to make our submission in regard to the Bio safety and Biotechnology Bill 2012

We understand that the application of the bill is on research and general release of a Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and one of the objectives of the bill is to facilitate the safe development and application of biotechnology. We also understand that certain parties are looking to pass this bill into law as soon as is possible. It is for this reason that parliament has called for submissions, and we feel compelled to respond.

Concerns on GMOs

First, we wish to share our concerns about GMOs in regard to agriculture, the environment and our economy. 

  • GMOs will bring high costs to farmers because the seeds are patented by the corporations that sell them.  Patented seeds mean that seed saving is forbidden and we must buy new seeds each season.  Many Ugandan farmers, especially small-scale farmers, will be unable to bear the additional cost of buying expensive patented seed each season. 

  • Some GMOs have had genes from different species put into them.  They are new and potentially unsafe.  There could be unknown health risks associated with inserting genes from different species into our food

  • There is a risk of contamination of our indigenous crops from fields planted with GMOs, through the likely event of cross-pollination. 

  • We are also aware that in other countries such as Canada and the US, farmers have been sued by the corporations for saving their GM seed, or for being accidentally contaminated with GM genes through cross-pollination.

  • If seed saving is forbidden, future generations will lose the knowledge of natural and traditional seed and its value.

  • We fear that contamination of our agriculture and seed with GMOs will mean the loss of export markets to countries that have already rejected GM foods.

  • GMOs will lead to the perpetual enslavement of small farmers by corporations, by controlling all the seed and forcing us to buy on their terms, season upon season.

  • GMOs do not address the real problems of food insecurity in Uganda.  They are only serving to distract policy makers from the good options that already exist, which are being underutilized.

  • The process of developing GMOs also provides scientists with an opportunity to produce sterile seeds. The idea of producing sterile seeds disrespects farmers’ rights to seed and causes total dependence of farmers and generations to come on corporations.

General Concerns on the Biosafety and Biotechnology Bill 2012

We are concerned that;

The bill fully accords the Uganda National Council for Science and Technology (UNSCT) with the mandate to approve confined field testing, export, import or transit. Whereas the UNSCT is the competent authority on matters of Science and Technology, we feel the final approval for commercial release of GMOs, export, transit and import should lay with a government ministry preferably the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries. Refer to Part II Section 7 (1 (a)

The bill does not provide for labelling of GMOs especially for general release on the market. Labelling is very important to especially observe consumer rights. The Bill should give powers to the minister in consultation with the competent authority to develop regulations regarding packaging and labelling of the GMOs before being put on the market.

There is no risk assessment report required for importation of GMOs. This is very critical to avoid an influx of unsafe GMOs from other countries. Refer to Part III Section 23

There is a very sketchy provision for public participation and consultations during the development and general release of GMOs. We propose that separate provisions on public consultations are developed as part of the miscellaneous provisions.

Uganda’s agricultural sector is mainly composed of small holder farmers however there is no clear mention of representation of the small holder farmers in the bill.

There are no specific provisions on conflict of interest whereas there are number of provisions in the bill that need this. Specific provisions are needed especially in regard to the roles of the Institutional Biosafety Committees, National Biosafety Committee and the Uganda National Council for Science and Technology. Refer to Part II Section 9 and 14 (6)(a)

There are a number of key definitions search as ‘unintentional release’, ‘bioethical’ and ‘benefit sharing’ that are missed out in the interpretation. For enforcement purposes all key terms need to be clearly interpreted. Refer to Part I section 3


The biotechnology and bio safety bill 2012 draft seems to hold no respect for the rights of the farmers and if farmer’s fields are contaminated by GMOs it will be impossible for them to successfully claim for compensation. The bill does not have provisions for communities to claim for compensation where their environment or food is contaminated by GMOs. 

We highly commend the efforts by the Government of Uganda to advance biotechnology development especially in agriculture however; this should not be done at the expense of the farmers and general public in Uganda. We call on to the government to respect farmers’ rights, food security, seed diversity and traditional cultures.

Members of Food Rights Alliance

1.      Abantu for Development
2.      Action AID International Uganda (AAIU)
3.      Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment ACODE
4.      African Centre for Trade and Development (ACTADE)
5.      African Women Economic Empowerment Network (AWEPON)
6.      APSD
7.      Ankole Food Security Network
8.      CAD Uganda
9.      CARITAS Uganda
10.  Consumer Education Trust (CONSENT)
11.  Development Network of Indigenous Volunteers Association (DENIVA)
12.  Eastern Uganda Food Security Network
13.  Environmental Alert
14.  Historic Resources Conservation Initiatives
15.  Kabalore Uganda Food Security Network
16.  Northern Uganda Food security Network (NUFOSEN)
17.  Southern and Eastern African Trade Information and Negotiations Institute  (SEATINI-U)
18.  Uganda Consumers Protection Association (UCPA)
19.  Uganda National Farmers Federation (UNFFE)
20.  VECO Uganda
21.  VEDCO, Uganda
22.  Youth Plus Uganda
23.  Centre for Development Initiatives (CDI)
24.  Pallisa Civil Society Network (PACONET)
25.  Mbarara district Civil Society Forum
26.  National Hunger Task Force
27.  Plan International Uganda
28.  Pro Biodiversity Conservationists in Uganda
29.  Uganda Women Organizations Network (UWONET)
30.  Masindi Seed and Grain Ltd
31.   Food talk Uganda
33.  Hunger fighters
34.  CODI
36.  SEDFA
37.  MPIFA
38.  Participatory Ecological Land Use Management (PELUM-U)
39.  Masaka District Farmers Association
40.  Uganda Environment Education Fund (UEEF)
41.  Mityana Mubende District Framers Association
42.  TAF Assured Uganda
43.  Hope Against Poverty
44.  IFDI
45.  Center for Participatory Research and Development  (CEPARD)
46.  Center for Health Human Rights and Development (CEHURD)
47.  National Association of Women in Uganda (NAWOU)
48.  Agency For Integrated Rural Development (AFIRD)
49.  GORTA Uganda
50.  East and Southern Africa Farmers Forum (ESAFF-U)
51.  Uganda Debt Network
52.  Concern Worldwide Uganda
53.  Uganda Land Alliance
54.  Arua  District NGO Forum
58.  NAPE
59.  Pastoralist and Poverty Frontier (PPF)
60.  Rural Development Media and Communication (RUDMEC)
62.  U-CAN
64.  World Vision Uganda

MPS query Biosafety and Biotechnology Bill

Publish Date: Nov 10, 2011

By Patrick Jaramogi
A Government plan to pass the Bio-safety and Bio-technology Bill without farmers input will hurt the incomes of farmers, Members of Parliament and Civil Society Organisations disclosed.

The bill that is set to be tabled in parliament next month seeks to formalize the use of Genetically Modified Organisms/seeds GMOs.

Uganda is one of those countries that are quickly adopting this technology with field trials for GMO banana, maize, cotton, potatoes and rice currently ongoing at Namulonge and Kawanda Research Institutes.

 Uganda has developed a National Biosafety and Biotechnology Bill 2008 and there is a draft Biosafety and Biotechnology Bill Draft 2008 yet to be presented to the parliament. This bill when turned into a law is meant to guide the introduction and use of GMOs in the country.

But MPs and CSOs meeting at Grand Imperial Hotel in Kampala observed that the bill which they also said had been shielded from the public will not address the escalating food prices.

With the world population currently at the 7 billion, many countries especially in Africa are faced with the serious threat of people dying from hunger.

Uganda alone is expected to hit the 50million mark by 2025. One of the solutions being advanced to deal with the threat of hunger is the advancement of Genetically Modified Organisms/seeds (GMOs) created through a new technology called Genetic Engineering.

“It is very unfortunate that even we (MPs) haven’t had the chance to peruse through the draft bill. This law will affect farmers who are the backbone of this economy, said, Matthias Kasamba MP for Kakutu- (Rakai) . "A lot of things are happening behind our backs with limited access by the public,” he added.

The Southern and Eastern African Trade Information and Negotiations Institute-Uganda (SEATINI-Uganda) country director Jane Nalunga said Uganda needs to learn how to deal with the market before the bill is passed into law.

 “Most NGOs, farmers, consumers and even the policy makers are not aware of the challenges arising from the use of GMOs like the fact that seeds produced through this technology are patented and their introduction is subjected to Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) that denies farmers the right to save, replant, share or propagate seeds without authority of the patentee,” she said.

     Eng. Robert Kafeero (Nakifuuma-Mukono) the Vice Chairperson Parliamentary Committee on Science and Technology said the bill will only be allowed to pass the floor of Parliament if it has meaning to the farmers.

“We shall cause meaningful change to the bill before it is enacted. We are concerned about the bio-safety issues,” he said.
He said creating seed security for small-holder farmers is very central in ensuring food security.

Erina Namugambe (Mubende) said under the NAADs programme, farmers are given terminator seeds which are not sustainable. ‘Farmers are not reaping much from the GMO seeds. They are not earning from their produce. This bill should seek to help the farmers more,” she said.

 The meeting is a collaboration between with Participatory Ecological Land Use Management (PELUM-Uganda), Action Aid International Uganda (AAIU), Volunteer Efforts for Development Concerns (VEDCO.

  Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) which is being done through Genetic Engineering (GE). The technology involves the production of genetically modified crops whose seeds may not be replanted especially those with the terminator gene.

The CSOs observed that one of the effects of GE technology will be elimination of farmers’ indigenous seeds. The result will be making smallholder farmers dependant on multinational and profit driven companies for the supply of seeds.

Hence, their food production and by extension livelihoods will be controlled by these corporate companies.

NGOs Want GMO Bill Overhauled,take Battle to EA Assembly

Civil society organizations (CSOs) are seeking the intervention of the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) to push the Ugandan Government to over haul the bill on Bio-safety and Biotechnology.

The CSOs are appealing for a strong legislation that will protect and respect food security, farmer’s livelihoods, the environment and human health saying that government should promote biotechnology that is favorable to the needs of the farmers and right to food.

A visiting scholar at the Makerere University College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences Giregon Olupot said that the bill should wait since no much publicity and consultation has been made in the twenty years of its existence. He said there are many issues that need to be put right before the bill is discussed like how the farmers are to be protected and compensated incase of risks.

Olupot said that the bill needs to be dismantled and a fresh one drafted because even when EAC tries to harmonize all the biotechnology bills in the Partner States, Uganda in particular still lags behind. Countries like Tanzania already have National Bio-safety guidelines which are clear with the originality of their Bio safety Regulations.

Professor Olupot notes that all the environmental guidelines that the country could have used to beef up the bill like the National Environment Management Authority and others were left out and the bill stands in isolation.

Agnes Kirabo, a national coordinator for Food Rights Alliance said the CSOs are greatly concerned about the manner the Ugandan Bio-safety and Biotechnology Bill 2012 was drafted saying. She says it is unfair and a lie to Ugandans because biotechnology is broad but the bill talks about one contentious element of bio technology which is genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Kirabo said that government should at least bring a GMO bill to be debated but if they choose a biotechnology bill then it should bring out the broad aspects of biotechnology and take into consideration the contests in its regard. She adds that the bill is weak on bio-safety since the powers and penalties spelt out therein are just pocket change given to the people who are going to promote and distribute genetically modified organisms in the country.

Kirabo further explained that the bill is very bad in its shape hence requiring debate and definition of what Ugandans want in order to draft a law that protects the interests of people. She urged scientists interfering with the bill to step aside for a while since the kind of research they are carrying out is not nationally driven but research of international agenda.

The Bio safety bill was read for the first time in February on the floor of parliament and handed over to the parliamentary committee of science and technology from where consultations are ongoing.