GMO Bill: Dear Ambassador Deborah Malac, Leave Uganda’s Food Alone!

As an alumnus of the enlightening International Visitor Leadership Programme, I am a grateful beneficiary of your largesse and still enjoy good relationships with a number of your colleagues.

Lawyer Andrew Karamagi
Opinion: Andrew Karamagi

In equal, if not stronger terms, I thoroughly despise and take exception to the (imperial) arrogance, white-saviour mentality and the profit-oriented calculus which, under the Trump Administration, appears to have overtaken the common norms of diplomacy and international relations.

My country is currently, and I must add, unnecessarily, caught between the proverbial rock and hard place.

Your Mission’s impudence was on full display the other day when in a statement, our Parliament was urged to “…support biotech crops to ensure food security and the economic prosperity of Ugandans.”

The Mission also expressed disappointment over the delayed enactment of a Bill that will legalize the genetic modification of crops, purportedly to boost our farmers’ yields and support small holder farmers.

US Disappointed with Museveni’s Refusal to Assent to GMO Bill

If you don’t already know, Madam Ambassador, my country Uganda has more than enough capacity to be a regional breadbasket sans GMOs.

Countless studies by the Food Rights Alliance, ActionAid Uganda and the National Association of Professional Environmentalists abundantly explain and prove this fact.

We don’t need GMOs.

Whatever food security issues we have aren’t because of any infirmities in the genetic code of our crops or fauna. Or a lack of drought resistance or high yield capabilities in our plant RNA or DNA helixes.

Our problems are largely a function of institutional ineptitude on the part of government, low and poorly planned budgetary appropriations to agriculture, politicized management of agricultural production and lately, erratic weather patterns.

Even with these prevailing difficulties, we can and continue to export food to our neighbours.

If we correct the above, we can supply the Great Lakes Region with enough food all year round and still have enough for the forty million stomachs back home.

Legalizing GMOs won’t increase our food export earnings. And even if it did, the adverse impact on the value chain and the monopolization of seeds would far outstrip the benefits of high yields.

If you really want to help, you should invest in our organic agricultural value chains, mechanization, extension services, access to affordable long-term lines of credit, value addition, product packaging and financial literacy, to name a few.

These are the real challenges that the small holder farmers are interested in addressing.

GMOs won’t resolve these issues.

What you and your advisors may also not know is that the legalization of GMOs could unwittingly exacerbate, instead of resolving the food security and healthcare questions in our country.

This will be detrimental to both your and the US’s geopolitical, financial and military interests as well as our quality of life. In the end, there will be no winners.

Let me quickly illustrate the point:

One of my law school professors, Ben Twinomugisha, went to the countryside to visit his aunt who was ill. To his utter shock, he found her in the garden digging under the sweltering afternoon heat.

It didn’t make sense to him why a sick person was toiling away in the garden. When he asked, the reply he got from his aunt stunned and scarred him: “my son,” came the reply, “the poor cannot afford to fall sick [and remain in bed].”

That’s how deprived of basic amenities many of my fellow countrymen and women are.

Subsistence agriculture is their only lifeline. GMOs will wipe out subsistence agriculture and the Biotechnology and Biosafety Consortium has no feasible or tenable replacement for it. How will 78% of the population live, especially when the Ugandan state is largely absent?

Now, if GMOs are legalized, with the aforementioned challenges still in place, how will Professor Twinomugisha’s aunt in the countryside survive when she can’t afford the GMO seeds and inputs which she can at least access today thanks to nature’s providence in the form of freely available seeds, fertile soils, naturally-occurring water sources and regular rainfall?

Do you know that Uganda’s women are the fabric that sustain and hold our households and, by extension, society, together? And that they will also be at the receiving end of the harsh effects of USAID’s profit-minded interventions?

Can you see the intractable socioeconomic and political crisis that the Genetic Regulatory Act, in its current letter, could cause? Will you then donate truckloads of fast food to save starving Ugandans as a remedy? Have you seen the chaos that the scourge of dependence and illnesses that GMOs have wrought in Southern Africa?

If you ponder these questions, you will know that it is in yours and our self-interest to halt and resist this madness while we still can.

We the long-suffering people of Uganda have been on the receiving end of America’s duplicitous foreign policy. Our region has been a playground for military adventurism supported by the hard-earned tax dollars of working Americans.

The death toll at the hands of American military hardware, as a result (if you compute the deaths in the DRC, Burundi, Rwanda, South Sudan and Uganda) stands at over ten million over the past few decades…it doesn’t help that an unabashed racist is now in charge of your otherwise lovely country.

We cannot, at this moment, afford another avoidable crisis.

No, thank you.

If not for the sake of our humanity as Ugandans, hold your horses because if your GMOs decimate our livelihoods and ultimately make us an endangered species, the US will have less profits as a trading partner.

You see, a sickly, impoverished and food-insecure population, needlessly dependent on engineered food will not make for good business for American enterprises seeking to set up shop or already trading in Uganda.

The result will be a clusterfuck, with no easy means of resolution.


Andrew Karamagi |

Andrew Karamagi is a Ugandan lawyer. 

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