Uganda's President Museveni was said earlier this year to have been won over to GMOs by George Bush, but that's not the message that comes across here.
"He assured the group that he would not allow any GMO seeds into Uganda, although people would be free to eat GMOs in ground-up products if they wished. This news came as great joy to the group, who came from a sector where any GMO use, or even contamination was completely prohibited."
Organic Farmers Laud Museveni
New Vision (Kampala)
December 18, 2003
PRESIDENT Yoweri Museveni may be able to mix freely with the George Bush's and Koffi Anan's of this world. But the AGOA organic team, that was recently entertained by His excellency, left in no doubt that his rural roots are barely a scratch beneath the presidential exterior that we all recognise.
The team consisted of Maria Odido, Gulzar, Amin Shivjar, Jason Green and Damas Mulagwe. For this important meeting, they were joined by John Magnay of Uganda Grain Traders Ltd and trade state minister Jennifer Namuyangu. Of course the delegation was led by Susan Muhwezi, the AGOA representative.
The team was full of thanks to AGOA, and the President for making it possible to display a range of quality Ugandan organic products at the Natural Food Show Exhibition that was held in Washington in September.
This personal support should have been a clear indication of the President's commitment to the Uganda organic sector, as means of realising his desire to see poverty eradicated from Uganda.
But it was soon clear that this was more than an academic or political interest, but one that stemmed from his youthful days spent on the family farm.
He told us that the grass would always grow taller under the abundant Albizia trees and the health benefits of eating traditional crops, like millet were obvious - "Just look how tall the millet eating tribes are" said the President.
Such observations are common knowledge and although he may not know, in his youth, why the grass was taller under the Albizia tree, he didn't doubt the fact and would even cash in on the knowledge to ensure that cows in his charge grew faster.
"There are many natural answers if only we would look," said the President, in response to the group's request that NARO and agriculture ministry direct more of their expertise towards supporting the organic sector.
"Sometimes science tries to answer problems that are not there. My Ankole cows have naturally marbled fat within the meat and are low in cholesterol - is that not what the scientists are searching for these days?" said Museveni.
"Why do we need to incorporate in iron into rice, when if we eat millet, which is naturally high in iron, we can grow as tall as the Southern Sudanese, millet eating tribes." These were straight forward answers to the group's fears that the President would allow seeds that had been genetically modified into Uganda.
He assured the group that he would not allow any GMO seeds into Uganda, although people would be free to eat GMOs in ground-up products if they wished. This news came as great joy to the group, who came from a sector where any GMO use, or even contamination was completely prohibited. Magnay was glad to hear this statement.
"Regional grain marketing opportunities are on the increase and the presence of GMOs within our grain stocks would seriously threaten our ability sell grains within these markets" said Magnay. "Europe is another major market for our produce. They also don't wish to buy crops contaminated by GMOs".
It was very clear that the future for Uganda is along organic lines, providing the rest of the world with the natural products that it now demands, and is willing to pay for - at a premium price.