A lot has been written and said in the media on whether or not we need genetically modified (GM)rops and related products in Uganda. This debate has been hastened by the National Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill 2012, which is currently before parliament. It seeks to provide a regulatory framework to promote their safe production.
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are a result of genetic engineering and many crops such as bananas, maize, potatoes, cassava, tomatoes, and livestock such as chicken can be produced or improved through this technology. All these and more are vital in Uganda.
More often than not, aocates cite high pest and disease infestation, which is affecting the level of production and the quality of the products, as the justification for biotechnology. Cases in point are banana bacterial wilt (BBW) and coffee wilt disease.
The other reason is climate change, to which we need to adapt to, as well as growing population growth.
These, and other factors, require food production that will match in spite of the aerse conditions.
But the issue of GMOs has raised environmental concerns, which is against sustainable growth and the “green” world we so much desire.
Position of dependency
It is also a threat to local farmers who traditionally re-plant seed saved from previous harvests. The fact that GM seeds cannot be re-planted puts the farmers in a position of dependency since they have to go back and buy from the producer whose products, in most cases, have patent rights and the prices determined by the producer himself.
This is worsened by reports that the toxins in GMOs can be transferred into the human system responsible for increase in diseases like cancer and various allergies.
In more than 60 countries, including Australia, Japan and member states of the European Union, there are significant restrictions or outright bans on the production and sale of GMOs.
This leads me to ask questions like What happens when an ordinary farmer cannot afford the GM seeds? What happens if the suppliers of GM seeds cannot supply them?
Government should help
I suggest that government improves on the measures which are already in place to deal with causes of low quality and low production of indigenous food crops instead of the promotion of GMOs.
The ministry of Agriculture should, for example, support farmers by providing subsidised tools, fertilisers and seeds and revive farmers’ groups. These are essential in dispensing vital information to farmers regarding markets, weather conditions and prices.
Government should also improve its weather forecast systems so as to avail farmers with correct and relevant information.
With such measures in place, the problems associated with indigenous foods can be settled without the need for GMOs in Uganda. The one who controls your food supply controls your life.
The writer is a student of development studies, Makerere University
SOURCE: Daily Monitor