Uganda: Rural Farmers Urge Museveni to Protect indigenous Seeds from Multinationals' GMOs

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Indigenous seeds preserved in bottles in Gulu district ready for distribution

“Small scale farmers who form over 95% of the farmers in Uganda and had control over their seed since time immemorial and we were never going wrong; but the trend is quickly changing. As farmers, without seeds, we shall never be called farmers”

“Although we appreciate the government’s consistency in public investment in input distribution, there is continued public outcry for inputs, this is mainly in form of lack of availability, accessibility, affordability but also the quality”

 

GULU-UGANDA: Small Scale Farmers in Uganda, under their umbrella organization; Eastern and Southern Africa Small Scale Farmers’ Forum (ESAFF)-Uganda; have appealed to  President Yoweri Museveni not to sign the bill recently  passed by Parliament which they say is meant to promote GMO seeds into law.

This call was made by the chairperson of ESAFF-Uganda, Mr. Mario Munguaciel from Gulu city on Thursday, February 8, during a regional seed security dialogue. The dialogue was called to discuss the impact of public investments in in-put distribution in Uganda and the alternative seeds models, which was held under the theme; “making voices of small scale farmers be heard”.

“Small scale farmers who form over 95% of the farmers in Uganda and had control over their seed since time immemorial and we were never going wrong; but the trend is quickly changing. As farmers without seeds, we shall never be called farmers”, says Mr. Munguaciel.

He observes that only 13% of planted area in Uganda is based on seeds from seed companies and out of this 25% comprises maize (maize) seed.

“Although we appreciate the government’s consistency in public investment in input distribution, there is continued public outcry for inputs, this is mainly in form of lack of availability, accessibility, affordability but also the quality”.

According to a Member of Parliament for Gulu district, Ms. Betty Aol Ocan, Parliament recently passed the much contested National Biosafety Act (2017) which is meant to protect the seed sovereignty of farmers against the promotion of GMO seeds; which bill was sent to President Yoweri Museveni to ascend to but he has not yet signed it into law.

“We told the ministry of agriculture that GMO seeds and products must be labeled as such to enable the customer make informed decision. It is not healthy to promote GMO products at all”, says the legislator.

Uganda’s seed sector is fully liberalized but is still in its early stage of growth. ESAFF is organizing regional workshops which bring together small scale farmers, local leaders and other partners to discuss how to create strategies on how to promote seed rights especially for rural women.

The chairperson of EASSF-Gulu chapter, Ms. Vick Lukwiya, appeals to government to establish indigenous seed banks in all regions of Uganda to enable communities to manage seed security.

She reveals that on October 15, 2017, 147 farmers from Gulu went for Trainer of Trainers (TOT) training in Iganga on how farmers can preserve indigenous seeds instead of relying on seeds from companies.

She accused seed companies of deceiving farmers that the seeds they park are good yet most of their seeds are obtained from local food markets or from research farms which manufacture supposedly improved seeds, but with ulterior motives of milking money from unsuspecting farmers. She gave the example of maize seeds which has 63 different varieties, all of which cannot be replanted.

“If I am called Vicky, why should they manufacture different varieties of Vicky called Vicky I, Vicky II or Vicky III? What new thing have you added to Vick if not chemicals? I would like to thank President Yoweri Museveni for refusing to sign into law the bill which was meant to introduce GMO seeds in the Uganda market”, says Ms. Vicky.

Mr. Paul Kilama, an agriculture extension worker in Gulu District agricultural office, has a different interpretation. The National Biosafety Act 2017 is meant to protect large scale commercial farmers from unscrupulous seed companies who pack and sell seeds, but whose products are of mixed varieties.

“These large scale commercial farmers use machines to plant only single variety of improved seeds of a particular crop in a season. If the seeds are mixed then the machines would reject them. If you think indigenous seeds are good, then I challenge you to produce them in large quantities to supply to our commercial farmers”, says Mr. Kilama.

The Gulu Resident District Commissioner (RDC) Mr. Santos Okot-Lapolo observes that the difference between cultural heritage and indigenous seeds is so minimal that each culture must preserve its seeds. He appeals to the Acholi not only to preserve their indigenous seeds such as sesame (simsim), millet and shea-nut in large quantities; but also to sell the seeds to the rest of the world.

“Where have you put your old traditional seeds? Instead you are crying for the free seeds being distributed by government under Operation Wealth Creation. Stop being dependent on handouts. The situation now is; how can we use these seeds to bring you income?” Lapolo says.

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