MUABSA in Partnership with UAA holds a public dialogue on the role of Science and Technology in addressing Modern Agricultural Challenges.
Participants assembling for the public dialogue in the Lower Lecture Theartre, School of Agricultural Sciences
- Dialogue attracts participants in big numbers
- Debate bends towards the National Biotechnology and Biosafety bill 2012
- Dialogue ends in disagreement; organisers asked to convene a public dialogue specifically on the Biotechnology bill
Hundreds thronged Makerere University College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CAES) to participate in a public dialogue organised by the Makerere University Agribusiness Students’ Association (MUABSA) in partnership with Uganda Agribusiness Alliance (UAA).
The dialogue took place on 29th March, 2017 under the theme, “The role of Science and Technology in addressing Modern Agricultural Challenges.”
The Lower Lecture Theatre in the School of Agricultural Sciences was filled to capacity leaving many of the participants standing outside but courageously listened and participated in a heated debate that diverted to discussing the Biotechnology bill.
The dialogue was moderated by Hon. Victoria Sekitoleko and attended by students, farmers academic staff and international media. Key speakers included Prof. Otim Nape, Mr. Charles Ogang, Dr. Andrew Kigundu and the renown MAK Anti-GMO Don, Dr. Olupot Giregon.
Hon. Victoria Sekitoleko chairing the event
The debate that was supposed to end with a vote on whether science and technology was addressing modern agricultural sciences hit a snug when participants expressed concerns on the clarity of the theme.
Other participants wanted the debate to focus on the biotechnology bill raising eyebrows that besides biotechnology the theme had many technologies embedded there in.
The Chairperson Hon. Sekitoleko objected the move to debate and vote for the biotechnology bill saying, neither the proponents, nor technocrats behing the bill had been invited to the public dialogue to give an insight of the bill.
The Chairperson urged students and Ugandans at large to take time to read about the Biotechnology bill and its challenges so that they are able to debate from an informed position.
“When there is a message, be ready to read. Take time, read more about the subject and understand it so that you are able to make effective decisions.” She said.
Hon. Sekitoleko commended such dialogues as important fora of making the truth come out and misinformation to be corrected.
She said that the objective of the public dialogue was to majorly discuss the role of science and technologies in addressing agricultural sciences. She tasked the organising committee to convene a specific public dialogue on the Biotechnology bill.
“ For instance right now there is a Biotechnology bill whose consequences are going to affect everyone including students, professors, farmers and technical people from businesses among others. For us to come together and air out our issues, it’s important that we know what is in it for us therefore we need to contextualise.” She said.
A section of participants
The Principal CAES represented by Dr. John James Okiror welcomed participants and thanked them for honouring the invitation to grace the event.
“I am amazed at the turn up. It’s encouraging to have such a big number of people turn-up; for it shows how interested people are about agricultural sciences”.
Dr. Okiror called for respect and tolerance to ideas of one another even if they were different on grounds that everyone has a right to opinion.
“The theme of the day was, ‘The role of Science and Technology in addressing Modern Agricultural Challenges’. However different issues were addressed. Therefore, I request the organising committee to arrange another dialogue to specifically address the Biotechnology bill.” Dr. Okiror said.
Dr. John James Okiror (R) speaking on behalf of the Principal CAES
One of the participants Barbara Tambirweki from Advocate Coalition for Development and Environment (ACODE) said that it was a very good initiative to involve the youth in agriculture and encouraged the college to continue holding such debates.
She however added that she was disappointed on the way the debate was conducted saying that there way many presentations but the real issues as to why the dialogue was organised were left out.
“The organisers are very aware that the issue right now is discussing the Biotechnology bill and it should have been really helpful if we had discussed it; given the fact that it’s going to be passed any time from now and people should understand its implications before it’s passed.” Tambirweki said.
ACODE's Barbara Timbirweki debating
Renowned anti-GMO Don Makerere University Dr. Oupot Giregon said, such dialogues are important as they present a perfect opportunity for the truth to come out.
“The dialogue has been helpful because we need the knowledge and science so that we are better prepared for the challenges that come with it. So I would like to have more of these discussions because the public will then know the truth and decide for themselves what is good and bad for them”, The Don said.
Dr. Olupot however said, he did not like the choice of the words for the theme of the day.
“We need to contextualise what the modern technologies and challenges are because under neath the theme, we have biotechnology, tissue culture, management of water and soil nutrient. So which science and technologies and challenges are we talking about?”, He inquired.
Mak Dons Dr. JJ Okiror and Dr. Gregon Olupot listen as others debate
The President of MUABSA Ogenrwoth Brian said that the dialogue was organised purposely to bring to the public awareness about agricultural technologies to bridge the information gap.
“As students and youth in particular we have a multiplier effect and responsibility to reach out to the public especially farmers”, He said.
The Student President observed that the youth constitute over 60% of the country’s population implying that the over 60% of the population can be both of an advantage and a disadvantage in terms of production.
Ogenrwoth advised the youth to take advantage of the existing programs, get involved in agriculture through various agribusiness ventures instead of leaving the sector to the old and weak to contribute to the economy.
“There is a misconception that agriculture is for the illiterates and the poor. The college has a lot of research and innovations in different disciplines and the only way is to involve the youth and make the public aware of how they can utilise these technologies to improve the agricultural sector”. The student President said.
Ogenrwoth Brian addressing participants
The modification of plants and animals to obtain new ones with traits desired by farmers has been going on for millennia. It involved random recombination of DNA in offspring followed by selection for traits best suited for food, fiber, feed, and energy production. This breeding was typically slow, sometimes limited by availability of desired traits in related species, and often took decades and frequently yielded crop varieties with unforeseen and undesirable properties.
More recently, the process evolved to include the use of biotechnological techniques, particularly genetic engineering, to reduce uncertainty and breeding time and to transfer traits from more distantly related species.
Biotechnology encompasses any technique that uses living organisms or substances from such organisms to make or modify a product, to improve plants or animals, or to develop micro-organisms for specific purposes. Plants and animals bred through genetic engineering are normally referred to as genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
Some of the participants during the public dialogue
The Uganda National Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill 2012
Every country has its own procedures to enact laws. The National Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill 2012 is intended to provide a regulatory framework for the safe development and application of biotechnology in the country.
In Uganda, the process involves the drafting of the bill by the first parliamentary counsel, approval by cabinet, first reading at the parliament, committal to the responsible parliamentary sessional committee, tabling of the bill for public hearing, consultations, and final approval.
The process for drafting the bill started in 1997 with the drafting of the National Biosafety Framework (NBF) to ensure safety in biotechnology. This was approved in March 2001 and in the same year the guidelines on biosafety in biotechnology were developed. This was followed by the establishment of the National Coordinating Committee (NCC) in 2002 to revise and publish biosafety guidelines, which was later followed by the drafting of the national policy on biotechnology and biosafety in 2003. The draft policy was later subjected to several consultations, reviews, and inputs from experts and in April 2008, it was approved by Cabinet. In the same year, the approved policy in turn led to the development of a draft Biosafety Bill. In March 2013, the bill was tabled by the parliamentary Committee on Science and Technology for public hearing and submissions from public institutions. The submissions were both for and against the bill.
Dr. Eva Kasirye (L) speaking during the public dialogue
In some countries, the adoption of GMOs has occurred with little objection, whereas in others, there has been fierce controversy. The origin of this controversy seems to have been partly legitimized through international biosafety legal instruments, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), and the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (CPB). The CPB required each signatory to put in place a national legal framework for safe development and commercialization of GMOs. As a consequence, most countries in Africa have either put in place, or are working to develop, legal frameworks for development and deployment of GMOs.
The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (CPB) is a legally binding protocol to the Convention on Biological Diversity. The Protocol seeks to protect biological diversity from potential risks posed by genetically modified organisms resulting from modern biotechnology. Article 4 of Cartagena protocol states that it shall apply to the transboundary movement, transit, handling and use of all living modified organisms that may have adverse effects on the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity taking into account risks to human health.
In Uganda, Pressure to pass this bill is building up after some parts of the country experienced food shortages and the proponents of the bill believe that once it’s passed, the already developed varieties of food crops that are drought resistant will be given to farmers to plant and this would end hunger in the country.
Several international media and NTV Uganda covered the debate
Some of the participants seated at the entrace of the venue to the public dialogue
Interne, Communication Office, CAES