The Ugandan Parliament is debating a Bill on biotechnology and biosafety for food production, which could be drafted into law in 2016, Ugandan ambassador to South Africa Julius Peter Moto said at an event hosted by nonprofit biotechnology stakeholders association AfricaBio to highlight the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (Wema) project, last month.
Still at the Bill stage, it is before Parliament for debate and is proving to be controversial with legislators, many of whom are opposed to the Bill.
“Human and animal health and the effects of genetically modified organism (GMO) crops on the environment should be addressed in legislation and farmers should be educated on the merits of biotechnology,” he said.
Wema is a public–private partnership that is developing drought-tolerant and insect-pest- protected maize hybrids, with the aim of improving yields under moderate drought stress and protecting them from insect damage.
Wema’s long-term goal is to deploy new varieties of crops, making them available to smallholder farmers, royalty-free, through local African seed companies.
Moto noted that severe food shortages were closely related to poverty and that sub-Saharan Africa was suffering from severe poverty and food scarcities.
“Sub-Saharan Africa is a region that has a great climate and good potential for a well- developed agriculture sector. “Addressing food shortages will have a direct impact on poverty,” he said, adding that a well-fed nation was the foundation for a healthy productive workforce.
Moto added that the solution to the challenges surrounding drought, infestation and diseases in agricultural production lay in governments in the region partnering with researchers and scientists to assist farmers by providing them with proper facts and information about the benefits of biofood.
“Information regarding GMO crops and biofood is inadequate. Information must be made readily available to farmers and consumers, supplying them with correct facts about these crops,” he noted.
Moto said that information should be made available to farmers in their local dialects, pointing out that GMO crops and biofood could assist rural farmers and local farmers in producing larger crop yields.
“Traditional seeds should not be discarded but instead stored in seed banks so that farmers have a choice between using traditional or GMO seeds,” he said.