The 9th Parliament of Uganda has officially closed before passing the highly contested Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill 2012. But supporters of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) as options in confronting major challenges facing Ugandan farmers remain optimistic that major strides have been recorded during the course of the heated discussions upon which they plan to build and further ease the adoption of the technology in the coming Parliament.
As the 9th Parliament drew to a close, the pro-GMO camp injected unprecedented energy into trying to convince the MPs to open debate on the bill that has remained a subject of Parliamentary consultations for over four years.
This came against the background of fear among some farmers and other supporters of GMOs that that the 10th Parliament, 70% of which is comprised of new MPs, would present a major setback to the debate in trying to have the new MPs aware about the urgency of having a law on the technology.
While most MPs and indeed some members of the civil society were vehemently opposed to the technology four years ago, thanks to intense sensitization and engagements with scientists, the knowledge gap among MPs has reduced and helped lessen the opposition to the technology.
For example, representatives of civil society groups working under the leadership of the Participatory Ecological Land Use Management (PELUM) said they are no longer opposed to a debate on the bill but instead want it modified to ensure it serves the purpose of regulating genetically GMOs.
In a statement issued by PELUM, the civil society representatives with support from international groups such as Action Aid, urged MPs not to pass the bill ‘in its current form’.
“We acknowledge the fact that Uganda should have a law to regulate dealings in GMOs but the National Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill, in its current form, is inadequate to address the risks that GMOs pose,” said the statement.
Arthur Makara, the Executive Director of Science Foundation for Livelihoods and Development (Scifode) whose organisation has championed the advocacy on the bill, hailed their efforts in debunking myths about biotechnology.
“I think our efforts have not been in vain. We shall build from where we have reached and hope to rely on those MPs whom we have sensitized to ensure that Ugandan farmers get proven safe alternatives to diseases and pests,” said Makara.
Makara however criticised as delaying tactics by CSOs in demanding for greater consultations on the bill. He pointed out that the proposed legislation is one of the most-consulted bills ever presented to Parliament.
“Those playing delaying tactics are violating human rights of farmers who confront the losses to their output on a daily basis because of the pests and diseases. No body is considering the opportunity cost of not having a law that offers farmers an option,” added Makara.