Wednesday, 15 January 2014 07:24
Last November, the National Agricultural Research Organization (Naro) took concrete steps towards beating off any opposition to the draft bio-technology and bio-safety legislation, commonly referred to as GMO Bill, The Observer has learnt.
Naro wrote to the NGO board complaining about several non-governmental organisations and civil society groups opposed to the bill. The Observer has learnt that many critical NGOs risk being de-registered following Naro's letter. Naro also complained to Makerere University about some of its lecturers, who had taken to demonizing the bill.
The activists, working under a loose alliance named Food Rights Alliance, are behind a media campaign against the bill now before Parliament. Promoters of the bill want government to block the NGOs' "illegal acts."
The Naro letter, dated November 8, 2013, follows an earlier one, of May 17, 2013, by the Uganda Bio-technology and Bio-safety consortium. This particular letter, addressed to Makerere University Vice Chancellor John Ddumba-Ssentamu, urged him to act on the staff opposed to the bill. The consortium singled out Dr Giregon Olupot, a soil scientist, for his fierce opposition to the bill.
"The essence of this communication is to bring to your attention these serious issues and request you to take action on these persons to stop such illegal actions that portray Makerere University negatively," reads the consortium's letter in part. This letter was followed by another one from Naro. According to the head of bio-technology at Naro, Dr Andrew Kiggundu, the letter was not intended to cause the sacking of anyone.
"Our intention is not to have the staff dismissed but we want the university to have control over their statements because they might be construed to be the universityís official position," Dr Kiggundu said.
Naro is particularly unhappy about advertisements on various radio stations across the country that it says portray the organisation negatively.
"Naro is concerned about the radio announcements that claim that we are poisoning Ugandans, we want the NGOs to substantiate these claims, we want to find out from the funders of that advert whether they have evidence," Kiggundu said.
The anti-GMO activists have been running radio adverts, facilitated by ActionAid, VEDCO (Volunteer Efforts for Development Concerns) and SEATINI (Southern and Eastern African Trade, Information and Negotiations Institute) calling on the electorate to lobby their MPs to reject the bill.
"Our research methods, technology testing and release are well documented; it is, therefore, shocking to hear some of the allegations aired in the mass media by some NGOs. There have been allegations that Naro technologies cause cancer and infertility. I wonder what research they have done to make this conclusion or which specific Naro technology they are referring to," read the letter, signed by Naro Director General Emily Twinamasiko, who has since passed on.
Twinamasikoís letter to the Chairman of Uganda National NGO Board lists ActionAid, Pelum Uganda (Participatory Ecological Land Use Management), ESAFF (Eastern and Southern Africa Small Scale Farmersí Forum), VEDCO, SEATINI and CAPCA ñ which are known to be critical of the bill.
"As an agency of government, our outputs are monitored by the ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries, and the Office of the Prime Minister. I don't know whether any of these NGOs get clearance from any of these authorities to make such statements." he wrote.
"I request you to warn these NGOs to desist from sabotaging government programmes and disadvantaging Ugandans in accessing improved technologies through broadcast of false and scary information. You should also task them to provide evidence for their pronouncements," Twinamasiko added.
ActionAid's advert is said to have infuriated government the most, especially because it criticized Naro for piloting GMOs even before the passing of the bill. But the NGOs insist they have done nothing wrong."The advert is telling the electorate to urge their leaders not to pass the bill in its current form and ask for a law that takes into consideration non-GMO alternatives. We believe that Ugandans need information, and we are creating this awareness because policy formulation should involve the common people," says ActionAidís Fredrick Kawooya.
Sunday, 30 June 2013 20:35
I read with amazement the attacks of prominent pro-GMOs Ugandan scientists on Dr Opiyo Oloya’s criticisms of GMOs in your article titled ‘Academics and activists clash over GMO bill’.
Atim insists that biotechnology is the way to go and therefore, the Bio-safety Bill, which is under parliamentary scrutiny, is just timely. Atim’s thinking that commercialisation of agriculture is synonymous with introduction of GMOs, is an error in reasoning. Many countries have commercialised organic farming that has guaranteed their populations food security.
Atim is not aware that according to Uganda’s plan for the modernisation of agriculture, the private sector is the fulcrum of Uganda’s economy. This simply means that once the Bio-technology and Bio-safety Bill is passed, private multinational players will have a leeway into this enterprise; after all, they are the experts when it comes to GMOs.
She opines that Uganda is leading the world in organic farming by default. Atim needs to be aware that Uganda is not leading by default but by divine providence. She does not tell us what will happen to farmers who cannot afford the low-priced genetically modified seeds that will be supplied to farmers.
In the same article, Jacqueline Nyagahima, head of information and communication of Action for Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA), believes poverty is what will enslave generations of Ugandan farmers if the country doesn’t harness and embrace science.
Her argument that Uganda has very capable and responsible scientists, who will not let us down once the Biotectenology and Biosafety bill is passed, is laughable. Isn’t Uganda one of the most corrupt countries in the world? What makes one think that being a scientist is synonymous with being ethical and having integrity?
How many Ugandan scientists will stand up to protect Uganda’s God-given organic heritage when Monsanto invests billions of dollars purposely to kill this organic heritage?
Monsanto’s Technology Organisation, is a multi-functional, multi-crop organisation comprised of four broad areas, one of which is Biotechnology, which is responsible for the discovery, development, and integration of novel genes into superior hybrids and varieties developed by breeding to create new traits such as herbicide tolerance, insect resistance, drought tolerance, higher yield and increased nutrition.
The Ugandan scientists should be aware that GMO introduction escalates poverty because it dismantles the organic seed heritage that the farmers depend on from season to season. Arguments that the scientists are not working at the call of any multinational, that they are working towards freeing Ugandans from the shackles of hunger and malnutrition, is oblivious of the fact that Ugandan scientists are some of the most underpaid in the world.
It is surprising that Ugandan scientists are very ignorant of economic globalisation and naively think that they can play an isolationist role when it comes to agricultural research. Ugandan scientists need to know that what causes hunger in Uganda is not food scarcity but, rather, poor distribution and planning.
The people in Karamoja, for instance, are dying of hunger as a lot of food is thrown away elsewhere in Uganda. It is surprising that the government has completely done away with the idea of food reservoirs (silos).
Therefore, once GMOs are legally introduced in Uganda, research in improving organic food varieties by Ugandan scientists will die a natural death and the entry and control of Uganda’s agricultural research by multinationals like Monsanto will be inevitable. Ugandan scientists need to be honest and patriotic as regards the protection of Uganda’s food
The author is a lecturer at Kyambogo University.