29 Dec

Uganda’s National Biosafety Act

After years of parliamentary debate and scrutiny, the Ugandan Parliament finally passed the long-awaited National Biosafety Bill on October 4th 2017. It follows the Biotechnology and the Biosafety Policy which was adopted in 2008. The National Biosafety Bill was marked as a step forward for proponents of GM technology as it set to establish a regulatory framework that would govern the development of GM technology in Uganda once signed into law. As Barbara Mugwanya, the Coordinator at Uganda Biosciences Information Center described “[p]assage of the Bill will allow scientists to conduct testing of the biotech crops in various relevant agro-ecological zones that are closer to the farmers” (Muheebwa, 2017). This development gave scientists the green light to begin planning open field trials and commercialization.

The Bill, which still needed to be signed into law by President Yoweri Museveni, designated the Uganda National Council for Science and Technology (UNSCT) as the competent authority for biosafety and biotechnology as well as an advisory committee and registrar. The UNSCT would have the authority to approve the development, testing and use of GMOs in Uganda. While this framework gave technology developers a clear roadmap towards commercialization, the excitement was short-lived.  In December 2017 President Museveni declined to sign the bill into law. In a letter to the speaker of the house he cited several issues with the bill in its current form. Notably, he cited concerns that GM crops might contaminate indigenous crops and that the bill favours patent holders rights over local communities – stating ‘this is wrong’ (The Daily Monitor, 2017). The bill has been returned to parliament for revisions and amendments.

References:

Muheebwa, H. (2017, November 3). “Uganda Parliament Passes Bill To Promote Use Of Genetically Modified Materials, Biotech” IP Watch. https://www.ip-watch.org/2017/11/03/uganda-parliament-passes-bill-promote-use-genetically-modified-materials-biotech/

The Daily Monitor (2017, December 28). “Museveni declines to sign GMO bill into law”. Business Daily. https://www.businessdailyafrica.com/news/ea/uganda/Museveni-declines-to-sign-GMO-bill-into-law/4003148-4244100-v66gbrz/index.html