Photo: The Independent, Unknown to most Ugandans, NARO currently runs one of the most active GMO research facilities on the African continent.
By Andrew S. Kaggwa
Kampala — Barbara Ntambirweki, a research fellow with Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (ACODE) is preparing for a bit fight – against introduction into the country of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).
She laughs off suggestions by GMO proponents that the recent attack by the army worm has softened the resolve to oppose the introduction of a pro-GMO law in Uganda.
“If they think they will have it easy when they introduce the Bill again they are joking. We are even more organised than before,” Ntambirweki says as she sifts through her battery of petitions and other documents she has been writing to parliament on the issue.
She is referring to the National Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill 2012 which was in 2013 presented to Parliament amidst opposition mainly from Civil Society Organisations (CSOs). Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga sent the Bill to the Parliamentary committee on Science and Technology for scrutiny but, in March, President Yoweri Museveni told Parliament to quickly pass the Bill ‘to help the country resolve some of the problems the agriculture sector is facing.”
It was the first time the President, who was at his demonstration farm at Kawumu State Lodge in Luweero District, was giving his opinion on the controversial issue, and appears to be the official line now.
But Ntambirweki and her camp say the Bill is bad because it seeks to smuggle GMOs into the country without safeguards and that the government and its agencies are using the threat of hunger to convince the country that GMOs are the magic bullet for solving all the country’s agricultural challenges – which, according to her, is a lie.
The anti-GMO lobby cites the example of Africa’s top cotton producing country; Burkina Faso, where GMO cotton was introduced but later abandoned after Monsanto supplied cotton damaged the quality. The fiber length, one of the chief measures of quality, was reduced, causing Burkina Faso’s cotton to fetch lower prices on the world market.
Ntambirweki’s opponents, the proponents of GMOs, however, appear equally determined to ride on the recent attack on the maize crop by the fall army worm to introduce GMO maize. According to this group, GMO maize will not be susceptible to attack from the fall army worm or any other pests and diseases.
Leading the pro-GMO army of scientists is Dr. Ambrose Agona, the director general of the National Agriculture Research Organisation (NARO).
Money, politics behind the National Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill 2012
Unknown to most Ugandans, NARO currently runs one of the most active GMO research facilities on the African continent. According to the South African based African Center for Biodiversity (ACB), Uganda has the largest number of GMO crops under testing by NARO. These include maize, bananas, cassava, potato, rice and sweet potatoes. And Dr. Agona admits doing the research even if the activity is illegal under current laws.
At the peak of the fall army worm invasion in March, Agona told journalists that NARO has developed several GMO crop varieties that can withstand drought, pests and diseases but the law does not allow NARO to release them.
“If the biotechnology law was in place we would be able to release this maize variety which is resistant to the armyworm,” he said.
The coordinator at National Crops Resources Research Institute (NaCCRI), Barbara Zawedde backs Agona’s position. She says farmers continue to suffer economic losses yet researchers are developing varieties resistant to drought, pest and diseases and shelving them because there is no law. NaCCRI is one of NARO’s research institutes located at Namulonge. She says the scientists have developed solutions to banana bacterial wilt, viruses in cassava, and drought resistant maize and rice.
“Bacterial wilt is causing Uganda an annual loss of over Shs600 million,” Zawedde says.
The Executive Secretary of the Uganda National Farmers Federation (UNFF), Augustine Mwendya, also says he backs the passing of the Bill. UNFF is an umbrella body for all farmers’ associations in the country.
Even politicians like Kabweri County Member of Parliament, Francis Gonahasa, say people like Ntambirweki who are fighting GMOs are simply ignorant. Gonahasa who has a university degree in agriculture says even though he belongs to the opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party, he is with the government when it comes to GMOs helping increase food security and productivity.
“Some of those opposing the Bill don’t know that the broiler chickens they buy from the markets are a product of GMOs,” Gonahasa said. Even some of the imported food products on shop shelves contain GMO ingredients and are ironically consumed by the same opponents of GMOs.
Revelations by Zawede, Agona, and Gonahasa appear to have pierced a painful spot among the anti-GMO camp. ACB estimates that 80 percent of food in Africa is produced by small-scale farmers who cannot afford the expensive GMO seeds.
“Genetic technology is extremely expensive. A farmer needs at least 500 hectares (1200 acres) before it pays its way. Most small scale farmers own much smaller plots of land,” ACB says.
According to ACB, in South Africa, farmers have to pay twice, sometimes five times as much for genetically modified maize than for the conventional variety. They cannot even extract seeds for replanting from their own crop and have to buy a new batch every year.
An official of a group against introduction of GMOs in Nigeria ‘Friends of the Earth Nigeria’ said African governments had learnt nothing from the Burkina Faso fiasco.
Now Ntambirweki is accusing Ugandan scientists of being in the pay of American GMO merchants.
On Monsanto payroll
NARO is allegedly carrying out its GMO research under a project called Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) using money provided by American pro-GMO organisations including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Monsanto, which is a big U.S. multinational which produces 90% of GMOs in the world, according to Greenpeace, a global organisation which fights environmental degradation.
Monsanto also sells fertiliser, pesticides, and weed killer – such as glyphosate – to buyers of its genetically modified seed. In Uganda the weed killer is traded as Round Up. However, Roundup and other glyphosate brands have been banned in some countries for allegedly having disastrous effects on biodiversity.
According to South African based African Center for Biodiversity, a nonprofit organisation against genetic engineering and biopiracy, Bill Gates and his wife; who are the richest couple on earth, pump large sums of money into agricultural projects they support, including those involving GMOs.
Ntambirweki says some Ugandan scientists, politicians and journalists have received money from the pro-GMO groups and multinationals and been sponsored on foreign trips to countries like Brazil which have embraced GMOs.
“The idea is for them to come back here and promote them,” says Ntambirweki. She says the first ever biotechnology and biosafety journalism awards ceremony in Uganda held by the Uganda Biosciences Information Centre (UBIC) in May was sponsored by WEMA using pro-GMO money.
Ntambirweki has some big guns in her camp; including the Executive Director of The Presidential Initiative on Banana Industrial Development (PIBID), Rev Prof. Florence Muranga. The PIBID boss says the government should not introduce GMO bananas because they are a threat to indigenous varieties and would affect the export of the crop.
“We have received orders to export banana products to both North and South America but the first condition is that they should not be GMOs,” Muranga is quoted to have said in May at the closure of training on banana production, marketing and value addition in Bushenyi District.
Even some NGOs working with farmers and individuals have joined the fight. Among them is Patrick Iga who was voted the best farmer in Uganda in 2014 in a competition organised by the New Vision Publications, KLM Airlines, and the Dutch Embassy and is the CEO of Farming Consultancy and Management (FACOM).
Iga says GMOs are one of two ways in which developed nations want to control the developing countries; the other is militarily.
“These big nations through companies like Monsanto want us to depend on them for seeds and that is the main reason why they are mostly targeting maize and other grains because they are aware they are the staple foods of people in the developing world,” he says.
He adds that many parliamentarians and politicians need to understand the concept of GMOs.
“There are four types of seeds or plants; indigenous, hybrid, improved, and GMOs,” he says, “however many people, including MPs, can’t differentiate between the last three.”
According to Iga who owns a 30 acre farm in Luweero District mainly specialising in agro tourism and growing of fruits and vegetables, Uganda needs hybrids and not GMOs.
“Hybrids have all the attributes of GMOs like resistance to diseases and drought and are safer,” he says.
He says hybrids can be propagated locally in Uganda and cites a variety of maize called FACOM Long Grain which he created that he says is resistant to drought and many diseases. He says GMOs, on the other hand, create are made by big companies like Monsanto which become monopolies of the seed.
Iga rubbished the idea that GMOs would increase food output and said more emphasis should instead be put on developing irrigation system and providing fertilizers to increase the output by the farmers. He said that even if GMOs are introduced when many farmers are still depending on rains to grow crops the problem of food insecurity will not solved.
“Can those advocating for GMOs tell us whether GMOs will not need water like our indigenous crops,” says Iga who has also authored several books on farming.
Hakim Baliraine, a board member at Eastern and Southern Africa Small Scale Farmers’ Forum (ESAFF – Uganda) said GMOs will only give short term solutions that are not sustainable in the long run.
He explained that indigenous seeds are still relevant but the challenge is mainly caused by low soil fertility and environmental degradation.
“What government should do is initiate irrigation schemes and subsidise the cost of fertilizers for small farmers,” Baliraine who is also a member of Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFISA).
The Independent made numerous attempts to get NARO to explain their research but the scientists became evasive and said Director General Agona answers such questions. But Agona, when contacted on phone, said he was “too busy”. He asked that questions be sent to his e-mail but still did not answer them.
The questions were mainly on common concerns about GMOs, comments on the Burkina Faso GMO fiasco, biosafety and diversity, and farmer and environmental protection, and effect of GMOs on pollinating animals; including bees.
But Ntambirweki says to avoid duping and misleading the public, the title of the Bill before parliament should be changed to reflect what it is about instead of trying to smuggle GMOs into the country using more permissible language..
“The Bill is titled The National Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill but as it stands does not provide for biosafety, which is a much broader and more specific field and needs an independent law to cover all aspects of biosafety beyond GMOs,” she says.
According to her, the CSOs want the bill to be named ‘The Genetic Modified Organisms and Products Bill, 2016’ so that “it actually reflects what is contained in it”.
Ntambirweki adds that the Bill is also using a wrong definition of GMOs which talks only about modern technological change of genes but does not cover the most important differentiation between GMOs and other products, which is propagation of new or altered organisms using genetic engineering.
Even people like Patrick Luganda, the Executive Director of Farmers Media Link, who say they are neutral in the war for or against GMOs, have concerns.
“What I want is assurance that it’s safe for the health of people, farming and the eco system,” Luganda says.
Luganda says it is wrong to allow organisations like Monsanto to introduce GMOs so as to have the monopoly over seed supplies in Uganda. He also says the law needs to prescribe punitive sentences for any individuals involved in GMO research which goes bad. He says affected individuals and farms should also be compensated.
“Research into GMOs should also be done locally and not sponsored by foreign organisations which may have vested interests,” Luganda says.
For now, the Chairman of the Parliament’s committee for Science and Technology, Robert Kafeero Ssekitoleko (NRM, Nakifuma), says his committee is finalising its report.
“I am optimistic this time the Bill will pass because now many people have realised the problem of not having the law in place with all the different pests attacking our crops,” Ssekitoleko said. The Minister for Agriculture, Animal Industries and Fisheries, Vincent Ssempijja was also optimistic that the Bill would soon pass into law.
“I can assure you the Bill will pass very soon,” Ssempijja told The Independent on phone. It is not clear how Ntambirweki and her group can stop that.
It would not surprise me if the whole ‘US and EU against Russia’ is just 1 big theater, a Hoax, to fool us around. Because when it comes to the biggest lies on this planet, they all work together: Medicine & Big Pharma, WW II, Holocaust, Israel and Zionism, Space, Energy, Money Creation and Banks, etc. Plus Russia is as keen as US and EU in manufacturing, dealing and using weapons. People in Russia are as much slaves of the system as people in US, China, Africa, Asia, America’s, Australia, Middle East and Europe.
A consistent supporter of Palestinian self-determination, Bolivian President Evo Morales holds up a Palestinian flag. | Photo: EFE
Convening a U.N Security Council session to discuss Palestine, Bolivia warned the international community not to turn its back on Palestine.
Bolivia delivered a scathing condemnation of Israel’s continued occupation of Palestine, and reiterated support for the self-determination of the Palestinian people, at the United Nations Security Council Tuesday, June 20.
In a statement during a Security Council debate on Palestine, Bolivian ambassador Sacha Llorenti, who is currently the President of the Council for June, expressed “great concern about the grave political, economic, social, humanitarian, and security situation in the occupied Palestinian territories, as a result of ongoing and loathful policies by Israel, the occupying power.”
Tuesday’s U.N. session on Palestine was convened by the Bolivian ambassador. As President of the Council for June, Bolivia is able to set meeting agendas and convene sessions.
Llorenti used the opportunity to warn the international community not to turn its back on Palestine.
“Bolivia reaffirms its support for the self-determination of the Palestinian people, and their right to a state providing freedom and sovereignty,” he said in his opening remarks to the council.
Referencing what he called the “widespread human trauma and humanitarian disaster” caused by the military actions taken by Israel in Gaza in 2014, the Bolivian ambassador said that his government “condemns Israels continuing military occupation of the Palestinian territories in breach of international law… including… reported war crimes by use of excessive, indiscriminative force, that over the years has killed and injured thousands of Palestinian civilians, including children.”
Bolivian President Evo Morales formally broke diplomatic ties with Israel in 2014 following the Gaza attacks, condemning it as a “terrorist state.”
Although a Security Council resolution put forward by Venezuela, Malaysia, and New Zealand in 2016 declared Israel’s settlements illegal, construction of the settlements is ongoing.
The U.N. Middle East envoy, Nickolay Mladenov argued that Israel is acting in open and illegal defiance of a U.N. demand to halt settlements.
“The policy of continued illegal settlement construction in the occupied Palestinian territory contravenes resolution 2334,” he said.
In spite of increasing international concensus regarding the illegal nature of Israel’s settlements and the egregious human rights violations undertaken to enforce the occupation, the U.S. ambassador has remained steadfast in supporting Israel.
The U.S. ambassador, Nikki Haley, who recently accused the Security Council of “bashing Israel,” argued Tuesday that “every ounce” of the U.N.’s actions “should be against Hamas,” because they are a “dangerous actor… determined to destroy everything in their path.”
Israel receives more than US$3 billion in annual U.S. military support.
Two militants ride a motorcycle towards an abandoned UN base at Syria’s Quneitra border crossing with the occupied territories, on November 28, 2016. (Photo by AP)
United Nations UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has expressed concerns about a spike in contacts between Israeli armed forces and Syria militants in recent months.
In a report released recently, Guterres warned that the growing interactions between the two sides could lead to escalation and cause harm to members of the UN Disengagement Observer Force deployed to the Golan Heights.
According to the report, UN observers listed 16 meetings between the Israel forces and the Syria militants in the border area, including on Mount Hermon, in proximity to UN outposts in Syria’s Quneitra Province and the Golan Heights, from March 2 to May 16.
“Relative to the previous reporting period, there has been a significant increase in interaction” between Israeli soldiers and individuals from the Syrian side of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, “occurring on four occasions in February, three in March, eight in April and on one occasion in May,” the report said.
In its previous report released in March, the UN listed at least 17 interactions between the two sides between November 18, 2016, and March 1, 2017.
The figures show a significant increase when compared with only two such meetings recorded between August 30 and November 16, 2016.
The report said people likely affiliated with the militant groups, some of them armed, arrived at an Israeli outpost accompanied by mules and were greeted by the soldiers.
“In some instances, personnel and supplies were observed to have been transferred in both directions. On all occasions, the unknown individuals and mules returned to the Bravo (Syrian) side,” it added.
Israeli soldiers take part in a military training in the occupied Golan Heights, near the border with Syria, on March 22, 2017. (Photo by AFP)
The UN chief said such interactions have “the potential to lead to clashes between armed elements and the Syrian Arab Armed Forces.”
“All military activities in the area of separation conducted by any actor pose a risk to the ceasefire and to the local civilian population, in addition to the United Nations personnel on the ground,” he wrote.
Earlier this week, The Wall Street Journal reported that Israel has been providing Takfiri terrorists in Syria’s Golan Heights with a steady flow of funds and medical supplies.
Citing militant commanders and people familiar with Israel’s thinking, the paper said Israel’s “secret engagement” in the war aims to install a buffer zone on the Syrian border with elements friendly to Tel Aviv.
The Tel Aviv regime regularly attacks positions held by pro-Damascus forces in Syria, claiming that the attacks are retaliatory.
The Syrian army has on several occasions confiscated Israeli-made arms and military equipment from terrorists fighting the government forces. There are also reports that Israel has been providing medical treatment to the extremists wounded in Syria.
In April, Israel’s former minister of military affairs Moshe Ya’alon admitted to a tacit alliance with Daesh, saying the terrorist group had “immediately apologized” to Tel Aviv after firing “once” into Israel.
Infographic: Click Here
World Refugee Day is held every year on 20 June in tribute to the people forced to flee their country due to war, conflicts or poverty.
Last year alone 362,753 people fled to the EU by crossing the Mediterranean. Of these 5,022 are reported missing or dead. Most of the refugees arriving in Europe – 38% – came from Syria. Check out our infographic to see how the situation evolved in each member state and the EU as a whole from 2010 to 2016.
Authorities make a distinction between refugees and asylum seekers. Refugees are defined as people who have a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group, forcing them to seek safety in a different country. One of the most fundamental principles laid down in international law is that refugees should not be expelled or returned to situations where their life and freedom would be at risk.
Asylum seekers are people who apply for the right to be recognised as a refugee and receive legal protection and material assistance. Asylum seekers must prove to the authorities that their fear of persecution in their home country is well founded.
Check out our infographic to find out more about the evolution of asylum applications in EU countries since 2011.
Photo: allafrica.com, Nearly 50 elephants will be among the first passengers on this 600km road journey, along with 200 zebra, 100 giraffe, 900 impala, 200 buffalo, 200 eland antelope, 300 wildebeest and 50 kudus.
Trailed by great clouds of dust, a massive convoy of noisy diesel trucks rumbles out of Zimbabwe this week starting on Monday to begin one of Africa’s largest-ever wildlife relocation projects.
The aim is to shift more than 6,000 wild animals from Zimbabwe to neighbouring Mozambique to replenish a national park that was all but emptied of wildlife in the aftermath of civil war. Another 1,500 animals will be sourced from Mozambique.
Over the next eight to ten weeks alone, the “rewilding caravan” will transport close to 2,000 animals from the Savé Valley Conservancy in southern Zimbabwe to the Zinave National Park in Mozambique’s Inhambane province.
Nearly 50 elephants will be among the first passengers on this 600 km road journey, along with 200 zebra, 100 giraffe, 900 impala, 200 buffalo, 200 eland antelope, 300 wildebeest and 50 kudus.
More than 50 elephants from the Sango Savé Valley Conservancy will also be moved from Zimbabwe to Mozambique. (Sango Savé Valley Conservancy)
Moving such large numbers of animals will involve the services of about 120 game-capture staff, veterinarians, ecologists, helicopter pilots and lorry drivers.
Sponsored by the Peace Parks Foundation, the operation is part of a much larger trans-frontier project to restore animal migration routes across Africa, while also benefiting local communities through wildlife tourism projects.
German businessman Wilfried Pabst, owner of the Sango section of the Savé Valley Conservancy, is donating 6,000 animals over the next three years. The Hamburg-based entrepreneur said that his conservancy enjoyed a surplus of wild animals.
“This process is a beautiful and fulfilling task and nothing shows our ecological success more than our gift of over 6,000 animals to re-establish the Zinave National Park.”
Werner Myburgh, chief executive of the South African based Peace Parks Foundation said in a telephone interview: “As you can imagine, the cost of buying 6,000 wild animals would be astronomical. The fantastic part is that Mr Pabst is not charging us a cent for them.
“Sango has surplus animals and being a philanthropist, he has offered to donate them to us,” said Myburgh.
Nearly 100 giraffe will be among the first passengers in the “rewilding caravan” that leaves this week. (Sango Savé Valley Conservancy)
Nevertheless, the cost of capturing and transporting up to 7,500 animals to Zinave over the next three years will cost the foundation around $2.5m.
Zinave forms part of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area (TFCA), which has begun to stitch together animal migration and tourism links between South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique.
Zinave was initially declared a hunting concession in 1962 but upgraded ten years later into a national park. However, the civil war from 1980 to 1992 led to the loss of several of the large mammal species, including the giraffe that was emblematic of this national park.
The redevelopment of Zinave as an integral component of Great Limpopo TFCA got under way early last year after the signing of a 10-year co-management agreement between the Mozambican National Agency for Conservation Areas and the Peace Parks Foundation.
The first wildlife reintroductions to Zinave began last October when 317 animals were brought in from South Africa’s Maremani Nature Reserve and the Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique.
Now, the larger re-introduction process is almost underway, involving the movement of 6,000 animals from Zimbabwe over the next three years. Initially, these animals will be kept in a fenced-off 18,500 ha section of the 400,000 ha Zinave park.
The foundation hopes to progressively establish a high-density wildlife population in a 150,000 ha section of the park to attract tourism investors back into the area.