Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Agriculture ministry must tell the public everything about GM tests

By Dr Opiyo Oloya

DEAR President Yoweri Museveni,

On Friday, I received an e-mail from Komayombi Bulegeya, the Commissioner of Crop Protection in the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industries and Fisheries (MAAIF).

The letter, written on official MAAIF letterhead, spelt out what appeared to be the official Government’s response to my article (New Vision, November 17) on the need for good laws to protect indigenous seed varieties, small farmers and naturally organic agriculture harvests (NOAH). I know that you have asked to be briefed on the issue that I raised a month ago against testing of genetically modified maize in Uganda. Thank you for listening to this very important issue of protecting indigenous seeds and small farmers in Uganda from big multinational businesses.

However, by the time of writing this article, the authenticity of the letter could not be confirmed. I would suggest that Mr. Bulegeya make copies of the letter widely available to the media as part of ongoing effort to educate Ugandans on the issue of genetically modified crops. In the meantime, Mr. President, I should inform you that since my original letter to you in October in which I expressed strong opposition to the testing of genetically modified maize, hundreds of people from across the world and from Uganda have spoken against the proposed testing of genetically modified maize by Monsanto and Uganda scientists. Many of the people who signed the petition ( to protect NOAH in Uganda wrote passionately about why our beautiful country should stay away from genetically modified crops generally and specifically the testing of GM maize.

From across the world, strangers wrote in support of Uganda’s small farmers and the preservation of NOAH.

Simon Validzic (Croatia) wrote: “Just because people have little money does not mean that they should have to accept whatever they are given. I live in Croatia and we do not grow GMOs here."

Rajee Seetharam (India) wrote: “We wish our African brothers and sisters good health. What hinders health should be stopped.”

Veronica Goddard (Britain) pleaded: “Please support organic agriculture”.

Linda Coenen (Netherlands) registered her objection, writing: “I am not a citizen of Uganda but anti-GMO campaigner at Action for Solidarity, Equality, Environment, and Diversity Europe. I just want to express my support for this initiative.”

More urgent and dire warning, meanwhile, came from Kevin Coleman (Britain) who wrote: “Please consider the impact that Monsanto and its chemicals have had on Paraguay before you even go anywhere near GM maize. It is a disaster waiting to happen. Your people will starve because the maize will be exported to feed livestock kept in factor farms in Europe and the US.”

Linda Gray (USA) echoed a similar alarm when she wrote: “The safety of genetically modified foods has not been proven over time. These crops that are able to absorb toxic pesticides without dying insure that those who consume them are ingesting those toxins. Also, these unproven GMO foods cross-pollinate with organic crops thereby destroying their original and organic crops.”

Mr. President, Ugandans are also speaking out because they do not understand the push for genetically modified crops in a country blessed with rich soil and plentiful rain. Here is just a sample of the voices.

Michael Kizito wrote: “Monsanto is not interested in the Ugandan farmers. It wants to control agricultural production in order to get super profits. It has already alienated Indian rice farmers…We say NO”.

Richard Mugisha wrote: “Responding to the needs of small holder farmers, Uganda should take precautionary approaches to GMOs. The main reason to say NO to GMOs is that it will bring a total loss of control for smallholder farmers as what to farm and how to farm.”

Magezi Rubaale wrote: “Uganda is gifted by nature. We have the best soils, and as a nation and citizens we should reject GMOs and use our natural resources. There is a banana brand called "FIYA". Once it is planted next to any of our traditional bananas they end up eating traditional ones.”

Mr. President, if I may pick up on the point made by Rubaale, one of my biggest fear and opposition to GM maize is that it will contaminate indigenous maize varieties in Uganda. In 2004, scientists from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) led by Dr. Lidia Watrud reported that GM varieties of creeping bentgrass near Madras in central Oregon, US, contaminated other grass 21 kilometres away. As well a study in Mexico concluded that GM maize contaminated indigenous variety 100 kilometres away.

Mr. President, the Confined Field Test that the Ministry of Agriculture designed to stop the unintended contamination of indigenous plant species will not work for maize. The testing of GM maize in any corner of Uganda, say in Kasese, Arua, Gulu, Mbarara, Teso, Masindi or elsewhere, will rapidly contaminate indigenous maize varieties elsewhere. Even the smart people at MAAIF cannot stop the wind from blowing GM maize pollen wherever it pleases. It is for this reason that

I strongly recommend that you order the shutdown of all planned testing of GM maize in Uganda. Secondly, you should ask the Ministry of Agriculture to inform the public about other GM tests and where they are being carried. Meanwhile, I am keen to volunteer my time to work with officials in the Ministry of Agriculture in designing a public campaign to educate Ugandans about genetically modified crops.

World Aids Day

I remember the souls of the departed and the cries of the suffering on this World Aids Day.

I also remember those who should have done something or were supposed to do ''that'' thing but did ''other'' things ...

I remind those who keep waiting to do ''anything'' to do ''every''thing.

I also remember what a great man said .... "At the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends." (Martin Luther King Jr.)