The long-awaited law on Biotechnology has been enacted by the Parliament of Uganda.
The Biosafety Bill 2017, previously known as the Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill 2012, was passed into law on Wednesday, bringing an end to years of campaign and counter campaigns by supporters and opponents of biotechnology.
The process of introducing a law to regulate modern biotechnology started way back in 2008, following Uganda’s accession to the Cartagena protocol.
However the bill faced strong opposition from civil society groups who cited Uganda’s alleged huge market for organic products in Europe as facing threat of expulsion, among other erroneous claims on safety, damage to the environment and soil fertility.
Scientists have hailed the move as a monumental step that gives them assurance that their efforts spent in laboratories will not go to waste.
Dr. Clet Wandui Masiga, a plant breeder, who witnessed the passage of the bill has told The Sunrise that with a law now in place, the task is left to scientists to ensure they bring the best technologies.
“Today, Parliament has made one of the most fundamental decisions by adopting the biotechnology and biosafety bill into law. This is a development bill, it is non partisan such that all of us as Ugandans are going to benefit from it as it will put in place guidelines to ensure the safe development of biotechnology products which are safe to humans and the environment,” “I wish to salute the Speaker, the Minister (of ICT) and other MPs who worked hard to ensure the passage of the bill.”
With up to 15 biotechnology products under different stages of trial, the passage of the bill is likely to help Uganda claim its place in Africa as one of the countries at the forefront of agricultural research. According to Masiga, Uganda will only be behind South Africa, Sudan, Burkina Faso and Egypt that have already commercialized biotechnology products.
With the exception of South Africa which grows GM maize, most other countries started with fiber-based GM crops like Cotton. Nearly all of Uganda’s GMO research is targeting food crops.
The enactment of the law sets the stage for the many products still under confined field trials at research stations to proceed to final stages of research such as farmer field trials as well as tasting studies, before they are allowed to be commercialized.
Some of the most advanced products of biotechnology by Ugandan researchers include bananas resistant to the devastating bacterial wilt, maize resistant to the stem borer as well as the fall armyworm and potatoes resistant to the late blight.
Other crops in advanced stages of research include Cassava, Rice, which are considered critical to Uganda’s food security.