For GMO Use in Eastern Africa, Regulation or Elimination?

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Last week, Uganda’s Daily Monitor featured an opinion editorial by Professor James Katorobo from the Centre for Basic Research (CBR) , which summarized the main conclusions of a study he led on the implications of Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) policy in Uganda. His findings, which were also presented as a paper in Italy earlier this year, emphasize the potential negative consequences of proposed legislation to make it easier for GMO seeds to be imported, produced, and traded in Uganda.

Uganda’s government, like many governments throughout Eastern Africa, is currently establishing standardized regulations for the trade and local production of GMOs. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

Uganda’s government, like many governments throughout Eastern Africa, is currently establishing standardized regulations for the trade and local production of GMOs. While supporters of making GMOs more readily available to small-scale farmers point to their potential to improve local food security and farmer incomes, Professor Katorobo’s findings suggest that the proliferation of GMOs in the region could have devastating results.

Uganda’s current infrastructure, for example, says Katorobo, is not equipped to adequately follow international GMO transportation protocols, such as the Cartagena Protocol. These protocols have been established to help, among other things, prevent GMOs from contaminating farms and wilderness areas when they are being transported.  Similarly, argues Katorobo, Uganda lacks the facilities needed to manage the production and distribution of GMOs in a safe and controlled manner. And widespread use of GMOs, he continues, may eventually lead to the loss of indigenous crops which may be better suited for local growing conditions and require less labor and expensive chemical inputs than GMOs.

Although Professor Katorobo warns of the risks of making GMOs more available to small-scale farmers in Uganda, supporters counter that the development of improved regulations will help the area slowly build up the necessary capacities to support widespread GMO production and use. GMOs, supporters argue, could potentially improve harvests and incomes, while also helping farmers protect against losses due to climate change.

To read more on this ongoing discussion, see the upcoming State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet. You can also read more on the Nourishing the Planet blog: Women’s Lingerie and GMOs, The Debate Continues: The Economist Hosts Debate on the Compatibility of Biotechnology and Organic Agriculture, The GMO Debate Continues, Creating Food Sovereignty for Small-Scale Farmers, How Should the U.S. ‘Feed the Future?’ and An Interview with Phil Bereano.

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