1.Why GMOs will not perform miracles
2.Experts want law on modified foods

NOTE: This Ugandan article (item 1) ia very incisive on the cost of the "frenzy" that gets whipped up "among policy makers" thanks to NGOs fronting for the GM industry - read Africa Harvest and the other spin offs by Wambugu and ISAAA - who want GMOs "elevated to the first priority" in governmental policy when it comes to addressing the problems of "reduced agricultural productivity in the country".

For the last ten years, this journalist explains, the pro-GM lobby has been "spending colossal sums of money [on conferences for policy makers] in luxurious hotels", as a means of lobbying for GMOs "at the expense of a dwindling agricultural productivity. Their actions and influence are overshadowing the Government's strategy and competitiveness to develop tangible interventions in the agro-sector."

The writer says he is not at all anti-GMOs, and they may have their benefits, but he accuses "bureaucrats, who hide in technicalities" of puffing GMOs "as the immediate saviour" of Ugandan agriculture while ignoring the range of problems that need to be addressed to really help Uganda's farmers. "Will the dwindling soil fertility, disappearing rangelands, pastures and bush fires also be addressed through genetic modifications?" the writer asks.

While GMOs are promoted as a saviour, basic issues like proper agricultural extension services for farmers and seed quality go entirely unaddressed with the government using promotion of "the free market" as a cover.

Kikonyogo Ngatya concludes that, "Poor policy development and execution" rather than lack of GMOs is the real problem.

In short, the "frenzy" for GMOs actually serves to distract attention from the real issues while giving policy makers cover for their failure to act.
1.Why GMOs will not perform miracles
By Kikonyogo Ngatya
New Vision, 13 October 2008 

THERE is a frenzy among policy makers and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) fronting Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) to be elevated to the first priority in government's realm to addressing challenges to reduced agricultural productivity in the country.

The thinking is that with the numerous pests and diseases out breaks in the fisheries, livestock, forestry and crop sectors, products of genetic modification will do a wonder and correct the situation almost at once.

Their argument is that GMOs are superior, because they are developed with exact desired traits like milk and beef production in the livestock stock, but also diseases and pests resistance in crops, as opposed to other conventional means like hybrids.

For the last ten years, this school of thought is spending colossal sums of money in luxurious hotels toying with this idea, at the expense of a dwindling agricultural productivity. Their actions and influence are overshadowing the Government’s strategy and competitiveness to develop tangible interventions in the agro-sector. While I agree that GMOs are good, they are not necessarily superior. My submission is that while GMOs shall offer some help to farmers, it’s being over glorified.

The short to midterm problem with the agro-sector currently is the inability of policy makers to focus attention where it is due. The bureaucrats, who hide in technicalities, often blow out GMOs as the immediate saviour, which I like to differ.

First, even if we had a GMO banana variety in Uganda today, for example, it would not scale up production, even in the next five years. This is because, agricultural extension services to sensitise farmers on better farming methods is badly wanting.

Look at the banana bacterial wilt problem, which the country is grappling with. While the policy makers were still demanding for billions of shillings to address the problem through research, ordinary farmers were already carrying out “survival” farming practices. It has indeed come to be understood and accepted in scientific circles that with good agronomical skills like tendering to the plantation, mulching, cutting off the male bud to avoid bees visiting reduced the wilt prevalence in Mukono and other areas. These formed part of the survival practices.

Indeed, a GMO banana variety, as the researchers note would take the next about 10 years to materialise. The gene, which the scientists at Kawanda are researching, is only targeting one disease - the black sigatoka. This implies that other disease and climatic challenges, will still stay, requiring closer farmer-to extension officer interaction to better farming. Will the dwindling soil fertility, disappearing rangelands, pastures and bush fires also be addressed through genetic modifications? Certainly not.

My view is that farmers are ahead of scientists when it comes to planning for the direction of the sector ”” which is a dangerous precedent. But you wouldn’t blame the farmers.

Look at the numerous league of new crops being indiscriminately introduced without clear policy planning like moringa, jatrophaa neem tree, aloe vera and silk warm.

A few profit driven multinatinationals often conspire to promote the crops, with a hope of a ready market. But in a few months, they disappear. While the immediate escape route for the so called technocrats is that Uganda is a liberalised market economy, my conviction is that the policy makers do not the right varieties introduction studies.

While this is often swept under the carpet, it has seriously affected technology dissemination developed by Ugandan researchers under NARO. Indeed under the World Bank Funded Agricultural Research and Development Programes (ARTPI & II), a full department for technology dissemination; fell short to showing concrete achievements. This fear among farmers has long term implications in the execution of the Plan to Modernise Agriculture and Bona bagagawale.

Indeed GMOs cannot be our first line of defense. Poor policy development and execution is the bigger problem. Often farmers in northern Uganda returning from IDPs have complained that the seeds do not germinate. Indeed I also agree with them that there is a problem, which GMO seeds, even if we had them now would not fix.

The answer is to be found in the national seed certification policy. Why should seeds developed in high humidity agro-ecological zones like Buganda be dressed and taken to farmers in warmer environs like Karamoja or the North?
Certainly, they won’t do well. But then this policy does not monitor labeling dressed seeds to ensure that farmers buy them for the agro-ecological zones they intend to plant them in.

More so, the few farmers who supply seeds to the seed companies hardly fulfill requirements to the already weak and unimplemented seed regulations. Companies rely on physically sorting the seeds, which in my opinion is simply packaging grain, not certified seeds.

The way forward would be for the National Planning Authority under Dr Kisamba Mugerwa to annually publish policy direction to the agricultural sector so that various stakeholders who execute their implementation can contribute for better productivity.
2.Experts want law on modified foods
By Gerald Tenywa 
New Vision, 13 October 2008

EXPERTS have called for a law to regulate genetically modified organisms.

Arthur Makara, the executive director of Science for Development, said the law would address bio-safety concerns. “The law would help in case there are violations and address any risks,” he told participants at a workshop held at Shanghai Restaurant in Kampala last week.

Makara said Uganda was a leader in bio-technology in eastern Africa and that other countries in the region were also working on bio-safety policies.

Genetically modified organisms contain genes, which are artificially manipulated to produce high yields and crops that are resistant to disease.

Dr. Yona Baguma, from the National Crops Resources Research Institute, said through bio-technology, superior crops that can resist diseases threatening to wipe out bananas can be produced.

“It would be difficult to achieve food security without bio-technology since diseases are threatening to wipe out most food crops yet the human population is increasing.

Baguma said bio-technological research on bananas was being carried out at the Kawanda Research Station, and that studies on cotton and cassava were underway.

He cited clonal coffee, which yields five times as much as the traditional coffee as a breakthrough of biotechnology. This, he said, had increased production and boosted farmers income.

He commended President Yoweri Museveni for supporting bio-technology.

“Museveni is a keen listener and asks many questions so that he can understand.”

Museveni, while presiding over a multi-million bio-tech laboratory three years ago, supported debate on genetically modified organisms.

He also cleared the importation of non-contestable forms of genetically modified organisms such as processed foods.