By Prossy Nandudu
Members of Parliament on the committee of agriculture have appealed to the incoming members of the East African Legislative assembly (EALA) to prevail upon their counterparts in Kenya, not allow the legalisation of genetically modified (GMO) food items in their country.
According to Christine Kaaya, the Woman Member of Parliament for Kiboga district, and member of the agriculture committee and shadow minister for water and environment, the GMO issue is not only a country issue.
She explained that information gathered from scientists indicates that when Kenyans plant the genetically modified maize, there is a likelihood that pollen from GMO fields in Kenya, will find their way to Uganda.
“That is why we are bothered besides much of the processed food items that come into Uganda come through Kenya, so we want to engage EALA to front this issue. We have briefed the Ugandan team to front this on the floor and alert their counterparts in the region to find ways of addressing the GMO issue,” said Kaaya.
According to her, the intervention of EALA will force Kenya to reverse the decision of promoting GMOs in their country, and maintain the traditional farming systems.
She made the remarks on Wednesday during a multi stake holder dialogue on Seed Governance and Farmers Rights at Hotel African, organised by SEATINI Uganda in partnership with the African Biodiversity Network.
On October 3, Kenya president William Ruto okayed the importation of genetically modified maize for mass consumption as a way of easing hunger for his country that was being threatened by a food security crisis.
The move was welcomed with mixed reactions, from not only the people of Kenya but for Uganda and other East African Countries. Some Kenyans welcomed the move, while others through their civil society organizations, are still opposed to the idea.
For the case of Uganda, scientists,welcomed the move but quickly called for the passing of the Genetic Engineering Regulatory Act (GERA) into law for Ugandan scientists to release GMO crops to farmers.
Scientists like Erostus Nsubuga, Chief Executive of Agro-Genetic Technologies (AGT) lab, also a pioneer researcher on biotechnology called for law, arguing that the move by Kenya’s head of state would reduce the market for Ugandan maize.
He explained that Kenyans have been providing a ready market for Ugandan maize, but by allowing them to grow GMO maize, which is cheaper to produce because it is resistant to pests and disease, tolerant to effects of climate change but also high yielding.
Nsubuga added that with a law, in place, Ugandan scientists will be allowed to release the completed GMO crops to the public, that have been developed to address challenges such as pests and diseases, drought, high yielding compared to the existing varieties.
Examples of genetically modified food items that are ready for release but are still in the laboratories due to the absence of a regulatory frame work include cooking bananas resistant to the Banana bacterial wilt disease, maize resistant to the maize lethal necrosis diseases, vitamin A-rich banana to address hidden hunger or malnutrition and other traits such as resistance and tolerance to pests and disease causing organism and many more.
At what stage is the GERA Act?
In 2017 and 2021, President Yoweri Museveni declined to sign into law the National Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill, 2012.
The bill seeks to provide a regulatory framework that facilitates the safe development and application of biotechnology, research, development and release of genetically modified organisms.