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Uganda: Farmers’ groups reject genetically engineered seed (Daily Monitor)

Participants in a meeting of farmers’ groups in Mukono, Uganda strongly rejected the use of genetically modified seeds. The farmers stated that genetically modified seed is detrimental to indigenous seed stock. They noted that genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, are not the solution to the food challenges in Uganda or in Africa, but instead pose more problems.

In October last year, researchers in Uganda and Kenya were given the go ahead to plant trials of genetically modified maize. Ugandan researchers have been working to develop GM banana varieties which are resistant to bacterial wilt. Genetically modified cotton is also being tested in Serere and Kasese in Uganda, with plans underway for trials of cassava, rice and sweet potato.

The meeting of farmers’ groups in May was organized by PELUM Uganda, a network of Ugandan NGOs that work to improve the livelihoods of small-scale farmers. The joint statement prepared by the farmers groups states, “The protection and preservation of indigenous/traditional seed is fundamental in ensuring food security.” Farmers are concerned that by growing GM crops, ownership of seed will be transferred from farmers’ hands to private companies. GM seeds make the small-scale farmers dependent on the seed producer by not allowing them to replant harvested seeds, which has been the traditional practice for generations. Farmers are also uncertain about the safety and potential environmental impacts of GM crops.

Mr. Robert Tumwesigye is the director of Pro-Biodiversity Conservationists in Uganda. He said GMO trials in Uganda were done in a hurry and haphazardly. The absence of a law to regulate the technology did not make matters any better. He says, “GMOs have come, but they are a false hope [for] food security.”

Although farmers make up 80% of Uganda’s population, they face an uphill task to reverse the trend among scientists and government in favour of GMOs. Farmers also know that GMOs are promoted by multinational companies with commercial interests.

Dr. Ricarda Steinbrecher is a researcher with Econexus, a UK-based organization which analyzes the impact of scientific developments on environment and society. She said, “There is no need for GM in agriculture, as breeding combined with innovative and agricultural practices are better equipped to meet the challenges ahead.” She notes that conventional plant breeding has already produced drought-tolerant maize, vitamin A-rich millet and flood-tolerant rice. She adds, “And agro-ecological practices like organic practices with multiple cropping have shown that yield can be up to double without using any agrochemical inputs.”

Mr. Tumwesigye is concerned about the lack of regulations regarding use of GMOs, and the lack of protection for farmers, should any problems arise. He advises, “To avoid the impending catastrophe, the government should take caution before introducing GMOs.”