Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) have no place in our food systems in Uganda and Africa

Author Andrew Adem      Posted on: Dec. 12, 2022

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) have no place in our food systems in Uganda and Africa

The value of organic food around the world was estimated to be US$ 227.1 billion in 2021. East African countries earn a lot from the exports of organic produce. Uganda’s global market share is estimated to be about 5.9%, yet it is second in the world in terms of numbers of organic farmers since the majority of the small-scale farmers still rely on nature and chance to produce crops. However, with the legalisation and commercialization of GMOs in Kenya, organic agriculture risks being excluded from the international market due to contamination concerns.


From December 8th to 9th, 2022, different stakeholders met during the regional meeting that was held in Athi River, Machakos County, Kenya. The meeting brought together over 56 stakeholders from east African countries to inform regional strategies to counter the push of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in the East Africa Region and Africa at large.


The meeting happened at a time when the government of Kenya recently lifted the ban on the importation of genetically modified products despite the many uncertainties in terms of the environmental, food sovereignty, safety, and health impacts that GMOs pose. It was greatly emphasised that this action poses a significant threat to small-scale farmers and consumers at large. Commercialization of GMOs in the region stands to threaten small-scale farming and consumers at large. With Kenya being strategically important in the East African Community, the meeting anticipated a ripple effect in Tanzania, Uganda, and other EAC countries.


The regional meeting was organised by the Biodiversity and Biosafety Association of Kenya (BIBA-Kenya). Prior to the meeting, the Biosafety Association of Kenya (BIBA-Kenya), the Tanzania Alliance for Biodiversity (Tanzania), and Participatory Ecological Land Use Management (PELUM-Uganda), in collaboration with like-minded partners and individuals, held national meetings at the country level to bring on board various country-level stakeholders to develop a national strategy to counter the push of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).


Participants appreciated the fact that Tanzania cancelled research trials involving GMO maize and cassava in January 2021 after the country's research institute released field trials without being authorised and vowed to enforce a biosafety ban against imported GMOs. In 2021, the president of Uganda, HE Museveni, refused to sign the Genetic Engineering Regulatory Bill into law and cited key seed and food sovereignty issues. Currently, Uganda has a very extensive research and confined field-testing programme for GMO crops that include disease-resistant potatoes, cassava, and bananas; vitamin A-fortified bananas and cassava; insect-resistant cotton; and drought-tolerant rice.


During the meeting, each country was given an opportunity to share knowledge on GMO and the regulatory frameworks to govern new and emerging technologies in Kenya and the east African region. Each country talked about the current state of its country, the risks and assumptions, the gaps, and the strategies and priorities it planned to use.


The presentation for Uganda was made by Joshua Aijuka from PELUM Uganda. During the presentation, he highlighted that the lifting of the ban on the importation of GMOs in Kenya is a direct introduction of the same into Uganda and the neighbouring countries due to the absence of or negligence of the protocols. This is due to the bilateral exchange of goods and services and the movement of animals and people across the porous borders. He stressed that GMO is a threat to the seed and food sovereignty of each of the nations in east Africa, as well as the health impact of GMO.


Masudio Margaret, a small-scale farmer from Adjumani district, Uganda, addressed the fact that the release of GMOs has potential risks to the environment, that genetic pollution is an irreversible process, and that therefore there is no safe distance to their cultivation. She stressed that as a small-scale farmers’ organization, ESAFF Uganda doesn’t support the introduction of GMOs into Uganda or any other country in east Africa or Africa at large.


Different stakeholders in the meeting made it clear that GMOs have no place in our food systems in Uganda and Africa. As a result, major strategies were developed. Some of the strategies that were discussed during the meeting included engagement with policymakers at local, national, and regional levels; conducting comprehensive research; engaging with the media; building consortiums with different stakeholders; developing consumer education programs; and engaging with cultural and religious leaders, among others.


Participants in the meeting appreciated that agroecology is the only secure approach to seed and food sovereignty. Agroecology is a framework for farming and food system transformation that benefits people and nature. Agroecology is a promising integrated and holistic approach to achieving food system transformation, systemically addressing the issues related to food and agricultural production and commercialization systems within an enabling political environment. ESAFF Uganda has been influencing both policies and practises that protect our food systems against GMOs in Uganda. Through the programs, ESAFF Uganda has promoted agroecological farming practices, influenced seed and land policies and laws, promoted market access for organic products of small-scale farmers, empowered media practitioners to understand agroecology, and used the media to influence public and consumer understanding of agroecology.