New hope for Ugandan biotech sector as scientists urge re-tabling of adoption bill

UGANDA – Ugandan scientists have issued a communique urging parliament to re-table the biotechnology adoption bill for further debate, raising new hope for the technology despite the previous disincentive regulatory climate.

Faced with weather extremes, food insecurity and a fast-growing population, there is growing acceptance in Uganda for adopting innovative biotechnologies to address climate change-related agricultural challenges.

Unlike its neighbor, Kenya, which has warmed up to and benefitted from biotechnology, Uganda has faced long odds, primarily due to the lack of a supportive biosafety law and low awareness about the benefits  of biotechnology. President Yoweri Museveni has failed to sign the genetic engineering regulatory bill twice passed by the legislature.

However, forces beyond politics, such as the increasingly adverse impacts of climate change on the country’s agricultural sector, have been at play, inevitably changing the narrative.

“Political involvement in regulation has been a limiting factor in easing the regulatory barriers to the development and deployment of biotechnology, but as the climate warms and as the country’s population continues to surge, the country’s decision-makers will have to reduce their objections to biotechnology,” Jonan Twinamatsiko, a researcher and science policy expert, said.

Yona Musinguzi, a Member of Parliament’s Science, Technology and Innovation Committee, said Uganda will have to follow the lead of other nations in Africa that have successfully adopted biotechnology and are currently transforming their small-holder farming sectors into commercialized and market-oriented businesses.

In recent months, scientists and other biotechnology proponents have expanded calls to resurrect the bill that provides a regulatory framework to facilitate the safe development and application of biotechnology

During a recent media Bio café event organized by the Science Foundation for Livelihoods and Development (SCIFODE) and the Program for Biosafety Systems (PBS), scientists issued a communique urging parliament to re-table the bill for further debate. However, they’re still awaiting a response.

Senior Ugandan government officials have also joined the chorus, reports Alliance for Science. Erostus Nsubuga, a biotech innovator and founder of Agro-Genetic Technologies, disclosed he used his position as a member of the Presidential Investors Roundtable to prevail upon Museveni to sign the bill.

Elioda Tumwesigye, Uganda’s former science, technology and innovation minister, similarly revealed in a recent webinar that amendments to the bill had been discussed and would soon be brought to bear. The measure’s strict liability clause has been declared a non-starter by scientists and others.

“The government’s current open-mindedness towards the sciences implies that science-based amendments will be effected into the bill. The plan is to adopt a pragmatic fault-based liability for a more functional law as guided by the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, to which Uganda is a signatory,” he said.

But while research can be conducted, none of the products can be released for use by farmers and livestock tenders until they are approved under a biosafety law.

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