UGANDA – Researchers from South Africa and Uganda have shown how the feedback loop between the media, politics, foreign influence, and science hinders the adoption of GMOs and how governance concerns have a greater impact on Uganda’s agricultural industry than scientific ones.

When introducing new technologies like GMOs, socio-cultural factors are crucial. Similarly, major players in the adoption process play a significant role.

Researchers from Uganda and South Africa looked at 317 articles about agricultural production, GMOs’ effects on the environment, their health risks, and GMO labeling that were published in two daily newspapers in Uganda between 2012 and 2015 to show how these topics were related.

Additionally, they spoke with two members of the Parliamentary Scientific and Technology Committee, 10 science journalists, four biotech scientists, and three food rights activists.

Their findings provided evidence of the significant impact that GMO support and resistance have on the nation’s regulatory systems.

Scientists and activists alike utilize the media to lobby lawmakers to support their position on GMO legislation.

In this regard, the media’s portrayal of political governance’s past failures in other facets of agriculture has a detrimental impact on the public’s opinion of GMOs in Uganda.

This demonstrates the negative effects of the politicization of GMO-related topics by the media, which breeds public skepticism about science and GMOs.

Given that they are concerned about the political repercussions of their decisions, Ugandan officials often make decisions based on popular opinion rather than facts supported by science.

The study shows how the feedback loop between the media, politics, foreign influence, and science hinders the adoption of GMOs and how governance issues have a greater impact on the Ugandan agricultural industry than scientific ones.

Based on the content analysis and the interviews, it is apt to argue that scientists have limited control over the scientific agenda. Indeed, most scientists do not know the political, economic, and belief interests that shape and “control the flow of money”. 

“As patrons of science, the politicians determine the relevance of the scientific knowledge by deciding whether, how, and why science should be applied or not. 

“As such, it is the intertwining of science, industry, and politics i.e. state machinery in capitalistic settings that empowers politicians to decide how technology, including nuclear and biotechnology, are used even if politicians do not know the science involved in making the products,” says the study.

GMOs in Uganda

Scientists in Uganda have been developing drought-tolerant and insect-resistant GM varieties for close to two decades.

Asea and others started lab work for the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) project in 2008 to help farmers manage the risk of drought by developing maize varieties that yield up to 35 percent more grain under moderate drought conditions than currently available varieties. 

Thereafter, the scientists proceeded to develop varieties that offer both drought tolerance and insect resistance, known by the brand name TELA.

As reported by Alliance for Science, Ugandan scientists also developed other GM varieties, including cassava resistant to brown streak and mosaic disease, potato resistant to late blight disease, and a bio-fortified banana rich in vitamin A and resistant to bacterial wilt.

All these varieties have shown tremendous results, but they are staring at a fate similar to that of Bt maize unless the country adopts a biosafety law.

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