Notes to broadcasters: Genetically modified organisms (GMOs)

    | April 8, 2013

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    A genetically modified organism (GMO) is an organism whose genetic material has been altered by genetic engineering techniques. Organisms that have been genetically modified include micro-organisms such as bacteria and yeast, insects, plants, fish, and mammals. GMOs are the source of genetically modified foods, and are also widely used in scientific research, and to produce goods other than food. For a briefing on the subject, go to:

    The purpose of this News brief is to inspire a discussion on the subject of GMOs. For more details on the passage of the Bill in Uganda go to:

    An article on the current situation in Kenya can be found at:

    The use of genetically modified crops in Africa is hotly debated. Opponents claim that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have not been proven to be safe, and that the long-term effects on the environment and health are unknown. Supporters believe they are a key tool to provide long-term food security.

    The Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) project aims to develop drought-tolerant African maize using conventional breeding and genetic engineering techniques. The benefits and safety of the maize varieties will be assessed by national authorities according to their regulatory requirements. A long-term goal is to make drought-tolerant maize available royalty-free to small-scale farmers in sub-Saharan Africa.

    At this link you will find a useful frequently asked questions document on the WEMA initiative:

    The project has appeared in local press. Here is an article in the New Vision newspaper, Uganda, in late 2009:

    A recent presentation by one of the project scientists can be viewed here:

    Reporters from the New Agriculturist recently interviewed Dr. Godfrey Asea, the senior maize breeder at the National Crop Resources Research Institute, Uganda. The transcript can be read here:

    The Biosafety Clearing-House website offers a searchable database of laws and regulations on GMOs in various countries:

    GMO news, articles and information can be found here:

    The stories on which this News brief was based can be found here: and here:

    You may wish to review the following Farm Radio Weekly stories, which highlight some milestones in the GMO debate in Africa over the past few years:

    Kenya: Groups protest import of GM maize (Issue 109, May 2010)

    Malawi: Farmers succeed with new varieties of drought tolerant maize (Issue 128, September 2010)

    Kenya: Kibaki gives seal of approval on biosafety law for the production and use of genetically modified crops (Issue 56, February 2009)

    Zimbabwe: Farmers protest imported GM produce (Issue 95, January 2010)

    South Africa: Farmers reject GM potato (Issue 38, September 2008)

    Benin: A cautious approach in the midst of the heated debate on GMOs (Issue 16, March 2008)

    South Africa: GM crop problems called failure of biotechnology (Issue 63, April 2009)

    If you are interested in researching a story about GMOs in your area, you may wish to consider the following questions:

    -What laws has your country enacted to regulate biosafety and biosecurity?
    -What information about GMOs is available in your area? Who provides this information?

    -How much do farmers know about GMOs? Where do they get their information?

    -Would farmers consider planting genetically modified varieties of maize?

    -Do farmers think GM maize is a good option in drought-prone areas? Or can they suggest other options for maintaining yields when rains are poor?
    -Which NGOs, industry groups, or other organizations in your area advocate for or against GMOs?