MPs study Brazil Genetically Modified crops technology

A farmer sprays transgenic soybean on a Brazilian farm. Courtesy Photo.
A farmer sprays transgenic soybean on a Brazilian farm. Courtesy Photo.

Members of Parliament’s Science and Technology Committee will travel to Brazil this week to study how the South American country managed to commercialize genetically modified crops.

The crops were initially resisted in Brazil during the mid-nineties when GM technology was introduced. The country later embraced the technology and is now the second largest producer of genetically modified crops. Over 100 million acres of land in Brazil are planted with GMOs.

The Chairperson of the Parliamentary Committee on Science and Technology, Kafeero Sekitoleko in an interview confirmed that his committee together with chairpersons of other committees will be in Brazil for a study mission.

The visit comes as Members of Parliament make another attempt to debate the National Biotechnology and Bio-safety Bill 2012, introduced in 2013 but later shelved after a sharp divide over the merits of Genetically Modified Organisms.

Sekitoleko says there is emerging consensus within Parliament and government to have the Genetic Modified Crops regulated.

President Yoweri Museveni previously opposed GMOs but has since changed position. He, at the end of last year, told the NRM caucus about the benefits of enacting a law to regulate how the new technology would be introduced in future.

Sekitoleko says there have been some internal and external forces that have been campaigning against GMOs. He hastens to add that Ugandan scientists were not playing a proactive role in explaining the benefits of GMO in agriculture and medicine.

He adds that masses that will end up as consumers of Genetically Modified Organisms need to understand the basis of genetic engineering of plants before the GMO bill is passed into law.

Professor Pinehas Tukamuhabwa, a soy bean research team leader at Makerere University says Uganda needs to adopt Genetic engineering of crops because there are some problems that conventional methods cannot solve.

He cited Roundup-Ready (RR) soybeans as one of the technologies that would save the Ugandan soybean farmers from costs associated with weeding of soybean.

Tukamuhabwa says the Roundup-Ready soybeans are genetically modified to resistant to glyphosate, a herbicides that enables farmers to kill weeds without killing their crops.

The world’s farmers have increased their use of genetically modified crops since the technology became broadly commercialized in 1996. Uganda and other East African member states have been slow in adopting the technology.

Kenya and Tanzania have since changed their stands on the GMO technology as drought continues to ravage the maize crop. Tanzania planted the drought-tolerant GM hybrid maize developed by Water efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA). Kenya had previously banned GMO imports over alleged health concern but the ban was lifted.

– Uganda Radio Network