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EXPOSED: Uganda’s secret GMO research

Unknown to most Ugandans, NARO currently runs one of the most active GMO research facilities on the African continent

Kampala, Uganda| ANDREW S. KAGGWA |  Barbara Ntambirweki, a research fellow with Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (ACODE) is preparing for a bit fight – against introduction into the country of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).

She laughs off suggestions by GMO proponents that the recent attack by the army worm has softened the resolve to oppose the introduction of a pro-GMO law in Uganda.

“If they think they will have it easy when they introduce the Bill again they are joking. We are even more organised than before,” Ntambirweki says as she sifts through her battery of petitions and other documents she has been writing to parliament on the issue.

She is referring to the National Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill 2012 which was in 2013 presented to Parliament amidst opposition mainly from Civil Society Organisations (CSOs). Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga sent the Bill to the Parliamentary committee on Science and Technology for scrutiny but, in March, President Yoweri Museveni told Parliament to quickly pass the Bill ‘to help the country resolve some of the problems the agriculture sector is facing.”

It was the first time the President, who was at his demonstration farm at Kawumu State Lodge in Luweero District, was giving his opinion on the controversial issue, and appears to be the official line now.

But Ntambirweki and her camp say the Bill is bad because it seeks to smuggle GMOs into the country without safeguards and that the government and its agencies are using the threat of hunger to convince the country that GMOs are the magic bullet for solving all the country’s agricultural challenges – which, according to her, is a lie.

The anti-GMO lobby cites the example of Africa’s top cotton producing country; Burkina Faso, where GMO cotton was introduced but later abandoned after Monsanto supplied cotton damaged the quality. The fiber length, one of the chief measures of quality, was reduced, causing Burkina Faso’s cotton to fetch lower prices on the world market.

Ntambirweki’s opponents, the proponents of GMOs, however, appear equally determined to ride on the recent attack on the maize crop by the fall army worm to introduce GMO maize. According to this group, GMO maize will not be susceptible to attack from the fall army worm or any other pests and diseases.

Leading the pro-GMO army of scientists is Dr. Ambrose Agona, the director general of the National Agriculture Research Organisation (NARO).

Money, politics behind the National Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill 2012

Unknown to most Ugandans, NARO currently runs one of the most active GMO research facilities on the African continent. According to the South African based African Center for Biodiversity (ACB), Uganda has the largest number of GMO crops under testing by NARO. These include maize, bananas, cassava, potato, rice and sweet potatoes. And Dr. Agona admits doing the research even if the activity is illegal under current laws.

At the peak of the fall army worm invasion in March, Agona told journalists that NARO has developed several GMO crop varieties that can withstand drought, pests and diseases but the law does not allow NARO to release them.

“If the biotechnology law was in place we would be able to release this maize variety which is resistant to the armyworm,” he said.

The coordinator at National Crops Resources Research Institute (NaCCRI), Barbara Zawedde backs Agona’s position. She says farmers continue to suffer economic losses yet researchers are developing varieties resistant to drought, pest and diseases and shelving them because there is no law. NaCCRI is one of NARO’s research institutes located at Namulonge. She says the scientists have developed solutions to banana bacterial wilt, viruses in cassava, and drought resistant maize and rice.

“Bacterial wilt is causing Uganda an annual loss of over Shs600 million,” Zawedde says.

The Executive Secretary of the Uganda National Farmers Federation (UNFF), Augustine Mwendya, also says he backs the passing of the Bill. UNFF is an umbrella body for all farmers’ associations in the country.

Even politicians like Kabweri County Member of Parliament, Francis Gonahasa, say people like Ntambirweki who are fighting GMOs are simply ignorant. Gonahasa who has a university degree in agriculture says even though he belongs to the opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party, he is with the government when it comes to GMOs helping increase food security and productivity.

“Some of those opposing the Bill don’t know that the broiler chickens they buy from the markets are a product of GMOs,” Gonahasa said. Even some of the imported food products on shop shelves contain GMO ingredients and are ironically consumed by the same opponents of GMOs.

Revelations by Zawede, Agona, and Gonahasa appear to have pierced a painful spot among the anti-GMO camp. ACB estimates that 80 percent of food in Africa is produced by small-scale farmers who cannot afford the expensive GMO seeds.

“Genetic technology is extremely expensive. A farmer needs at least 500 hectares (1200 acres) before it pays its way. Most small scale farmers own much smaller plots of land,” ACB says.

According to ACB, in South Africa, farmers have to pay twice, sometimes five times as much for genetically modified maize than for the conventional variety. They cannot even extract seeds for replanting from their own crop and have to buy a new batch every year.

An official of a group against introduction of GMOs in Nigeria ‘Friends of the Earth Nigeria’ said African governments had learnt nothing from the Burkina Faso fiasco.

Now Ntambirweki is accusing Ugandan scientists of being in the pay of American GMO merchants.

26 comments

  1. Some facts also need to be on the table of reflection
    Is the MP aware that current bill is skewed towards crops and one of the reasons we are giving that the bill is narrow in scope? animals are not part so should not make an excuse of broiler chicken in addition they are not GMOs
    Is Dr. Agona denying that we need safeguards and precautions as mandate by the global protocol? These too are not in the bill
    is Dr. Agona denying that GMOS comprise less than 3% % of the entire body of Biotechnology which is the main subject of the bill making it narrow in scope?
    Is the MP aware that our bill is silent on chemical use yet the biggest percentage of GMOS is complementary to chemical use?
    Are they aware that the bill is silent on importation and trade of GMOS which is the biggest concern?
    What about penalties in case of damage because this is standard?
    What about issues of conflict of interest for instance Dr Agona and madam Zawedde are civil servants under code of practice why are they involved in a legislative process meant to regulate their practice?!
    How then did the Army worm become a spring board motivating their gears? Is there a form of ..

    Dr. Agona as DG of NARO also is responsible for safeguarding our genes. Does the bill in it’s current form support him in this role?

    • Kirabo,

      You have been heard on several platforms parroting the allegation that NARO is importing and integrating genes into our food (to promote your FRA), now in your last sentence you are reminding NARO that it is responsible for safeguarding our genes? Why parade confusion? Either you your confused and you have chosen to propagate your ignorance and confusion to the entire Country or you are serving the interests of your masters. You used to be a Board Member of NARO and you know very well that NARO is conserving the genes through the National Gene Bank in Entebbe, so why are you reminding NARO DG of what you know they are already doing? Do you know that it takes skill and knowledge of biotech to identify and conserve genetic resources and Uganda need genetic engineers to identify and conserve the genes? So why demonize and fight scientists (talk of cutting off the hand that feeds you)? Food Rights Alliance is a promoter of food security and food sovereignty (I hear) but how shall Uganda be food secure and a food sovereign state without harnessing scientific knowledge and skill?

      • Ooh my dear Gilbert.
        Thank you for your response which sound emotional relieving and hope you have relieved and feel better now. Now that you have responded from your heart, I invite you to submit from the head by helping me with the article in the bill or any other law that facilitates that function without compromise or contamination or you can advise that it is not necessary and we get to a other issue.
        I think in that way we shall have competent and mature progressive discussion.

  2. Barbara Ntambirweki

    I would like to correct the wrong impression created in this story. I am very disappointed in the journalist that tweaked this story to create sensational reading. I made two points to this journalist and they were as follows:
    1. Biotechnology is a powerful tool in elevating poverty and enhancing food security however it presents a wide range of socio economic concerns that require an EFFECTIVE LEGAL FRAMEWORK.
    2. I am not against this bill ( but rather the content) we are pushing for a bill that will safeguard Ugandans from the dangers of GMOs. This is not a fight against GMO companies, its rather an opportunity to engage with Parliament and other stakeholders on the need to have a law that is all encompassing.

    I would like to state that i am highly disappointed with the Independent Magazine for tweaking my interview and misrepresenting what i stated. This evidence is available on record.

    • Barbara Ntambirweki,
      As the Editor of The Independent magazine, I am sorry that our story has disappointed you. I wish to assure you that is never our intention as we seek to be the leading and most influential platform for independent public policy views and analysis. In my experience, situations such as this are often a result of minor miscommunication and post-publication ruminations that can be easily fixed. For example, in your post here, you say in point 2 that “I am not against this bill (but rather the content)…” which is quite confusing. So just let me know exactly what you did not say in the story and I will triple check with reporter.
      Regarding the word “Secret” – I wrote that and anyone disputing its accuracy can cross-check its meaning/synonyms etc.
      Finally, this story is professionally written i.e. nowhere does it reflect the view of the journalists (even if we are not blank slates!) and it raises the following issues which we should be discussing:
      1. The GMO Bill requires thorough scrutiny/rethinking (Murphy’s law), including danger of making Uganda hostage to seed barons (See our comment “Rise of the food barons” (The Independent June 23-29) on the likely merger between Bayer and Monsanto.
      2. NARO scientists get money from international GMO promoters pursuing business not national agendas. They should seek financial independence.
      3. NARO research requires an enabling law/oversight etc (what happens if research goes awry? Can victims sue? Who and what is actionable?)
      4. I like the invitation to learn more from NARO etc. It is more useful than the rest of the supercilious banter. We are open to publish any useful views on this subject. Pro and Anti-GMO.
      5. I apologise to my reporter, Mr. Andew Kaggwa for my use of the word “secret” which is being used to attack him. There is nothing wrong with it. – Editor

      • Nassib Mugwanya

        Joseph,

        How is funding for biotech / GM research different from that of conventional research? And why should it be held at a certain standard? Should we only be concerned about external funding if it’s about GMOs? If we’re concerned about the agenda of who funds GM research, shouldn’t we be equally concerned about the agenda of who funds other kinds of research?

        Every technology will have its associated socio-economic aspects, which should be regulated through policy. This should however, never blind us from the actual benefits of the technology.

  3. Barbara,

    I am glad to read that the comments ttributed to you in the article above are a misrepresentation of what you intended to communicate. As is the case with all Bills before they are passed, stakeholder engagement is carried to ensure that the final product in this case, law, is all encompassing i.e. takes into consideration all factors/players/sides

    Point of Clarity: Dr. Agona said that the absence of the law on biotechnology doesn’t allow NARO to release varieties that have been genetically modified to the public thereby possibly impacting on the extent of contribution to food security that NARO could have made. All such tests are conducted in what is referred to as Confined Field Trials, this means they are conducted at the institutes and are not open to members of the public. All produce from these trials is destroyed.

    The Independent is welcome to have a more detailed conversation with us on this subject.

    Have a good evening

  4. The journalist perhaps is still stuck in his old script of anti verses pro. Uganda passed a Biotechnology and Biosafety policy in 2008 to help it harness the benefits of biotechnology while regulating against potential risk. we need a law to do just that.

  5. Dear ALL,

    It is very disappointed that the Journalist Mr. ANDREW S. KAGGWA is so uninformed. How can NARO undertake illegal research. Did he even try to google its all over the internet since 2005, more the 10 years we have been making progress and publishing all over the world? How can he even insinuate that it is secret in his tile when he later writes that we are doing more research in GMOs than any other country in Africa. where has he been. Even Barbara is disappointed at being misquoted. I am sorry Editor use this journalist with care he will ruin your publication.

    Dr. Andrew Kiggundu

  6. By the way Mr. Kaggwa Makerere University is one of the few universities in Africa offering a full BSc course in biotechnology and it is also undertaking a number of research projects that involve GMO products. Please research your stories and stop being incompetent.

  7. Crespo mubbalya

    Army worms that attacked East Africa were simply another tool of advocacy for the same bill.
    politicians are mostly taken up by Money but selling of our right to food/seed is not acceptable not even to the president.,
    I said it and I continue to say it that one needed to find out who imported the armyworm and immediately gave it media coverage.

  8. Almost all crops and animals are genetically modified in one way or another. This has been happening since humans started selectively domesticating crops and animals for various purposes. Tools of upstream science such as genetic engineering only do the same in a more precise and fast way. That’s why the term ‘GMO’ is becoming quite ambiguous, as most crops have been modified through traditional, conventional, and modern breeding methods.

    Genetic engineering currently offers one of the best tools to improve both crops and animals for various purposes such as insect resistance, drought tolerance, nutritional enhancement, among others. It is only fair therefore, to assess the merits of ‘GMOs’ on a case by case basis, as they’re not a monolithic entity. Given the power of this breeding tool, regulation seeks to ensure safe use and deployment of its products to the environment, humans, and animals. This is an international obligation since Uganda ratified the Cartagena Protocol on biodiversity and biosafety. That is why Uganda needs a biotechnology and biosafety law to ensure safe use and deployment of genetically engineered organisms and their products.

    Most importantly, the law will enable farmers and consumers have access to a wider basket of technological options for the different challenges they face. Forexample, genetic engineering offers one of the most promising solutions in addressing brownstreak and mosaic diseases in cassava, a key food security crop in Uganda. It’s only fair to let every cassava farmer out there to have a chance to access to this option.

    You cannot talk about ‘GMOs’ and safety doesn’t come up. The safety question of ‘GMOs’ has been the most studied and the current mainstream scientific consensus is rock solid. They are as safe to eat as any other conventionally bred crop or product.

    Who can you trust on information regarding ‘GMOs’? Reputable peer reviewed journals, National / Royal Science Academies, Credible International Bodies such as W.H.O, F.A.O among others.

    Who should you not trust or be skeptical of? Activists, NGOs, sensational headlines, and pseudo scientists.

  9. Mulyante Robert

    I have listened to Barbara, I have interacted with Barbara Ntambirweki. There is no single word in the words used in the story that don’t come from her. She has stated these same words many times before. So, no one should blame the Journalist. May be the title which is the Editor’s responsibility. Even the links and use of African Centre for Biosafety (I wonder which Biosafety from ACB?) is from Ms. Barbara Ntambirweki. Actually, the Ugandan anti-science movement is a cartel, and are linked and networked to other Similar Anti-Science propagandists led by ACB based in South Africa and Kenya Biodiversity Coalition. They are bankrolled by Green Peace, UK and other like-minded Organization. Green Peace is a global fortune maker on the basis of anti-science propaganda. She is a spokes person for the Organic movement ““If they want to introduce GMO’s in the country, they should introduce GMO’s to places where they have poor soils, and not in places where our organic capacity is full,” she said.

    • Thanks Robert Mulyante,

      The Editor should come out on this forum and let the world know there is nothing like EXPOSED on the issue of GMO in Uganda. He or she needs to just come on board and be in the knowledge world of science and especially the one going on in Uganda and help the Independent play a part in the science and innovation drive going on in our mother Uganda. Look at the student of biotechnology here Andrew Ibanda, he needs to feel support in his endeavor to be a Ugandan scientist working to innovate for Uganda and the world. But from such stories and the NGOs full of lawyers that pretend to know nothing about science and are fighting it we can ignore. I am sorry to say that they are liers yet their profession is one of the biggest user and believer of science in forensic science which is full of biology and biotechnology… they go ahead and convict criminals based on the same science that they did not do themselves. So you see the world…… Some Ugandan musician said ‘befula’…They are Dramatists.

    • Barbara Ntambirweki

      Dear Robert, I do not even know who you are! I will repeat this i was GROSSLY misquoted in this article. I have the recording of what was said. I implore the editor to clarify what was said!

      • Mulyante Robert

        Dear Ms. Barbara Ntambirweki,

        Please, it is you to clarify what you said and what you did not because the Editor was not there. I think the Editor has been clear.E.g when you say you are not against the Bill, but rather against its content, what exactly are you trying to mean? This is deliberate confusion and lies in your effort to look honest and genuine. Please make clear what exactly you said. By the way, you may not know me physically but we have interacted on two or three occassions. You have participated in many meetings on this subject matter especially at Hotel Africana and I have some documentary evidence of what you have been saying. So when I say that these are your words/usual statements, I mean it.

        Robert

  10. I am greatly disappointed by journalists like the above. I am a government sponsored student of a Bsc. Biotechnology at makerere university. To inform you, the government has, is, and will still continue investing in scientists and the science and technology like the biotechnology which is our subject now.Tell me when have you ever complained about funds from the world bank to Uganda for road construction and modernisation? Uganda is a developing country and just as we need the money for roads, how much more do we need it when it comes to scientific research for the benefit of our country. I doubt he has even read that bill, and if you have Mr. Kagwa, then you haven’t understood to add on your narrow research about the entire subject matter. Just because you have legs doesn’t mean you don’t need the wings. Sometimes jumping is not in itself enough, and you will need to fly. Don’t ask me if the lame without legs fly, no they don’t, but they improvise. Science is about improvising now that everything is changing including the climate. As biotechnologists, we are not only trained in creation of Genetically modified organisms, but also in tge Bio safety regulations to note. So where should we work, for those of us that have specialised in biosciences and Bio safety? Are you trying to say that the Government is wasting money? am just ………

  11. Peter Wamboga-Mugirya

    Let me begin with The Independent itself: What work has it exposed, that has hitherto been secret until publication of this article and its misleading headline? You state NARO does secret GMO research.You don’t show us what investigation you’ve carried out to warrant unveiling the alleged NARO secret work! You widely use Barbara Ntambirweki’s allegations as the original source of the “secret work”? But I don’t read anywhere Ntambirweki is reporting any findings she has made on GMO-crops or work she knows which is being developed secretly! Ntambirweki claims she is disappointed with TI reportage, regarding what is attributed to her! So who is fooling who? Did Andrew Kaggwa connive with Ntambirweki to write all this under a secret understanding that as long as it will have maligned some institutions, even if Ntambirweki comes out to deny, damage spearheaded by herself will have been done!!?? If involvement of multinational companies (as is alleged) and funding by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, for any work in Uganda should be suspect, exposed and condemned, then all their funding and all their other support to Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), Health, Water, Education and other areas of agriculture should also be questioned, condemned and labelled “secret”. In the same vein work supported by similar foreign foundations as Greenpeace, ActionAid International, e.t.c to environmental and social groups, NGOs and activists, should also be suspect and exposed. Let us apply the same standards and measures on everything foreign-related–why only in Agricultural Research should we apply cross-eyes/screwed/skewed sight? Even NGOs’ and Government’s Education, Health, Political, Electoral and Social programs and projects are also funded by foreign-based foundations such as Konrad Adeneur Stiftung, Friedrich Ebert Foundation, Knight, Rockefeller and MasterCard Foundations, DANIDA, BTC (Belgium), DfID, USAID, EU, Germany, France, China, India, e.t.c why shouldn’t The Independent and Ntambirweki come out to expose these as “secret and harmful” meant to control our minds, thinking, dominate us, influence decisions, our work, our lives and e.t.c? The Church is also heavily-foreign funded, why haven’t they come out to single them as having secret multi-national sponsorship?” Going by the definition of “multi-national” aren’t organisations such as Greenpeace or ActionAid, multi-national NGOs? They have more than one nationality or race of people working in/for them. They operate across nations and even continents. Even their Boards of Trustees or funders, are multinational-Caucasians, Asians, Africans, Euro-Asians, Japanese e.t.c. Isn’t that being multinational? The term “Multinational” is used in this context of Agricultural Research and Technologies to strategically insinuate that the companies involved are big, profit-driven, arm-twisters, mafia-like, cruel and pursuing foreign agendas. Which one of the listed Multilateral and multinational agencies and foundations are not carrying out work in Uganda, in the interest of their countries, Governments and people? If Ntambirweki, ACODE, The Independent and other like-minded groups do not like anything foreign, then they should in the very first place, abandon English (a foreign language), stop seeking foreign funding for their operations, stop use of any foreign things like vehicle donations [Uganda doesn’t manufacture any], since these are meant to influence, control and hold them in servitude! Let us go the North Korean way whereby they produce their own food, products and services, and are cut off from the rest of the world, except, officially, China. But misleading the public that GMO technology is foreign [un-indigenous], harmful and enslaving, is the greatest intellectual dishonesty, dis-ingenuity (if I can borrow Godber Tumushabe’s term he commonly uses) and a misfortune of our times. Such mindset originates from the thinking that it is an interference with nature, when scientists go into a plant’s cell to study what its genome is like, or diagnose what it is suffering from (for instance a pest, disease or environmental stress). That it is a violation of natural life. But if the same great intellectuals and activists keep animals or birds, and when these creatures show signs of sickness, they (intellectuals/activists) look out for people (veterinarians) specialized in the nature, life and behavior of such animals or birds, for a solution. Immediately after diagnosing the disease, the veterinarians will prescribe treatment—including if necessary–surgery. My question is: when plants fall sick (or they don’t?) who can diagnose plant pests or diseases? Such people are called plant virologists or plant bacteriologists [among others]—in the case of viral and bacterial infections. These plant virologists or plant bacteriologists on diagnosing viruses and bacteria, prescribe treatment using genes from plant sources that do not suffer viral or bacterial infection. That is exactly what biotechnologists like Andrew Kiggundu (and many others in NARO) do via genetic engineering, in Uganda. To engineer the genetic make-up of the affected plant so that it develops resilience/resistance) against the pest, disease or environmental stress, it’s a scientific method just like immunizing humans, animals and birds, or treating all of them against virulent diseases. One of the ways is Genetic engineering—infact until recently, the most-advanced method of protecting plants. It is the next-level advanced plant breeding method where conventional methods or hybridization have limitations. There’s the new gene-editing or CRIPR-Cas 9 [Precision targeting] method, that enables geneticists and medical researchers to edit parts of the genome by removing, adding or altering sections of the DNA sequence. It is currently the simplest, most versatile and precise method of genetic application, as a way of protecting organism or perform certain functions more efficiently e.t.c. When it comes to human beings (the intellectuals and activists), when they feel unwell, what do they do? Do they go to fellow intellectuals/activists for treatment, or go to people specialized in human medicine; that is doctors? If its serious ailment like brain tumor or heart disease, it will involve brain or heart surgery. Is brain or heart surgery tampering with nature? Is it a violation or interference with human nature? If it is, then I expect the likes of Ntambirweki and her likes demanding they’re consulted first whether brain or heart surgeries should be done in Uganda with their nod from her first, before it is done! What if it is her who needs heart or brain surgery? Would she stop medical surgeons (specialists) from prescribing it? Or carrying out surgery on her? If yes, then what about plants when attacked in a similar fashion and require extraordinary steps to manage their dire condition? Who should attend to or treat plants–Activists or Scientists? If it is the activists, who has stopped them from treating our bananas of BBW? Cassava of CBSD and CMD? Or maize of the devastating drought or stem borer infections/impacts? Nobody! But what is clear, scientists specialized in treating plants shall not be stopped in their work. And shall not certainly get clearance or instructions from activists. They’ll get instructions and guidance from their institutional bosses and biosafety regulators. So what is Ntambirweki doing via sponsored media like The Independent’s “EXPOSED: Uganda’s secret GMO research” article? What does she intend to achieve? Since 2010, MPs have visited the GM crop research at NaCRRI-Namulonge and NARL-Kawanda, including all kinds of interest groups: media, clergy, farmers, NGO activists, students, civil servants, local leaders and policy-makers. So The Independent’s article, besides being sloppy, it has been secretly crafted and carefully timed to negatively influence policy-makers from taking decisions on the NBB Bill (2012) now before Parliament—period! Ntambirweki and The Independent don’t want scientists to apply modern biotechnology and genetic engineering to crops. They must first accept, before Uganda goes ahead with its GM-crop technology! Really? Because they’re opposed to GM crop research and development, then ongoing research is “secret!” If both parties love human life so much than any other people, what about brain or heart-surgery that has been going on humans for some good time now? Isn’t it already being done even at Mulago? Uganda’s National Referral Hospital has had Open Heart Surgery since 2013. These crop-technology skeptics and groups obsessed with crop/plant-technophobia, carry the latest phones, but have engineered an unholy campaign and an unholy alliance against the crop genetic engineering work for sinister motives. In fact the secrecy with which they operate globally is what the media should unravel not GM-crop technology which is so old, widespread and working for farmers and wrecking in billions of dollars for anti-GMO activists, too!

  12. Patricia Nanteza

    ‘Exposed?!’ You guys make journalists seem silly. How can something that has been public knowledge since 2005, be an expose? Just so you know BXW resistance GM research on bananas has even gone beyond proof of concept, past confined field trials and we even started multi-location trials. I think that is the kind of expose you should reporting about. Stop cheapening our profession by deliberately writing falsities – GM research is not illegal in Uganda. A little reading and making a few calls goes a long way in journalism.

  13. EXPOSED, is a word I couldn’t expect to be in the same sentence with GM research in Uganda. This clearly shows that Andrew Kaggwa forgot to do his ‘home work’. If Kaggwa could not get anyone to consult why did it even skip his mind to google, ‘biotech research in Uganda?’ I have been following the independent since 2013 but did not expect such a story from you. Anyway, let me not dwell much on that you must have heard enough from the comments above.

    As a graduate of biotechnology (from Uganda), I know that biotechnology research is not illegal. It is backed up by the National biotechnology and biosafety policy of 2008 (Available here). Saying that GM research in Uganda is ‘secretive’ sounds like there are sort of underground labs and trial fields somewhere in Uganda. Which is wrong. During our time at the university we visited these facilities and interacted with the scientists very often.
    I have also come to learn that Members of parliament, farmers, religious leaders, CSOs, students and journalists too have visited the facilities, seen and felt for themselves. It seems that it’s only the independent and ACODE that has not visited Namulonge and Kawanda research institutes. I know if you requested for the opportunity, NARO won’t turn down your request because it is a public institute and it will ever be.

    Why should we rush to quote what ACB said about GM maize in South Africa? Why not consult the scientists in the cereals program about Bt and drought tolerant maize research at Namulonge. The truth is that if the law is passed, these seeds will be available to farmers at loyalty free. They will be controlled by the normal forces of demand and supply in the current seed system. Not by decree. Uganda’s farming system is different from that in the US and South Africa. I recommend that we handle these issues on a case by case basis not just mere generalizations or copy and paste of argument lines.

    GM is not a silver bullet to our agricultural production constraints. If anyone who told you that, he/she was wrong [am sure not a NARO scientist]. These crops will require the normal agronomic practices just like another crop.

    Just like any other technology, Biotech must be regulated. Not because it is bad but to safe guard against its misuse. Clearly pointing out the relevant competent authorities and the penalties in case of breach of the law. Which I think is satisfactory.

  14. This story is too misleading and full of inaccuracies that The Independent should save its face, take it off the site and apologize to the nation. It’s a disgrace to journalism. If you’ve got your key source disowning you in your face and admit that you changed the reporter’s facts, what are you left with?

    • Paul Weiyato Kassi

      Mr. Henry Lutaaya, u’re absolutely spot-on to say its “misleading” because there’s nothing accurate about this story “EXPOSED: Uganda’s secret GMO research.” First they boast of having exposed and do not show what they’ve exposed, how, where and when? The NARO GM-crop research at Kawanda for instance, is just by the roadside of Bombo or Kampala-Gulu Highway. Any pedestrian, cyclist, and even motorist, can see that work as they pass by! Although its chain-fenced off, just like any valuable work should be, its still visible all over. Even whoever drives in Kawanda, there are sign-posts clearly indicating GM/Transgenic research for banana resistant to BBW, Weevils, Nematodes, Biofortification to improve vitamin A, iron and zinc content e.t.c. And these signages change or are removed, whenever a particular research work ends. As journalists, you should not allow such hogwash stories that want to grand-stand and chest-thump for no secret work exposed at all, to be published. Particularly on scientific and technology interventions/solutions/innovations, journalists organizations or Ministry of Information should reign such media houses, that serve to frustrate or subvert Government’s scientific research work.

  15. Dear all,

    I find it ironic that readers took it for granted that NARO has a solution for fall armyworms.

    To believe that, would mean believing that NARO scientists have been able to outsmart all the scientists across the globe, including those of Monsanto, in being able to engineer crops which are resistant to the current fall armyworms called supetbugs.

    These fall armyworms that came from the Americas to Africa about a year ago,
    are happily devouring S. African GMO maize, just like they are doing with GMO corn in the US and Braziland.

    NARO scientists have been telling Ugandas to go GMO just like S. African so that we could harvest those benefits from crops resistant to pests. Now, how can they try to sell the same story with fall armyworms with these facts of fall armyworms destroying S.African GMO maize and go unchallenged!

    The fact of the matter is this, had NARO been able to engineer crops resistant to fall armyworms, we would not be reading it in Uganda newspapers, it would be headlines in major science magazines across the world with their peer reviewed paper of research findings.

    Scientific facts about fall armyworms and their resitance to Bt (GMO) Corn:

    July 13, 2017:
    “It took just three years for the fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda) to develop resistance to genetically modified Bt corn in Brazil. In a new article in the Journal of Integrated Pest Management.”

    It is pitiful that this game of falsehood about GMO agriculture is the solution to these new fall armyworms, yet it is the veryone that created their evolution into resistace to all current pesticides!

    Note: Dr. Agona admits doing the research even if the activity is illegal under current laws. Why doesn’t he admit that he is covertly conducting Monsanto’s unapproved experimentations which it could never be able to conduct on the US soil, especially at this time when it is facing legal battles of concealed illegal acts at the expense of human health & the environment.

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