UBIC Conducts Maiden Forum on Agri-biotech at Bukalasa Agricultural College

The subject of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) remains as intriguing as it is controversial for the general Ugandan public. With the Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill currently before parliament for deliberation, the seemingly interminable debate GMO debate continues to rage on with unabated ferocity. However, the widespread furore has given fertile ground for misconceptions and urban myths about modern biotechnology to take root and flourish. Thus, Uganda Biosciences Information Center partnered with the Centre for Life Sciences (CLS) to conduct a ‘Students' Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology' at Bukalasa Agricultural College in Luwero District on October 23, 2015. The forum was conceptualized as part of broad-based efforts towards engaging the public and facilitating meaningful and nuanced dialogue on modern biotechnology and its applications in Uganda, with the goal of enabling informed decision making.

Over 400 students and faculty from the Government institution attended the forum. It was a timely opportunity for exchanging information and ideas on topical issues on agricultural research in a relaxed and interactive setting. Through a series of lecture presentations, the students were apprised of the status of the ongoing crop improvement research being conducted by NARO institutes, the benefits of modern biotechnologies, as well as the status of the National Biosafety Framework. The opening lecture expounded on the interplay between Uganda's demographic trends and emergent challenges to agricultural productivity, building a strong case for concerted research efforts to sustainably ensure national food security. The forum then seamlessly switched to an open-ended Q&A session on modern biotechnology for crop improvement. At the end of the event, a number of students acknowledged that they had all along conflated GM crops with conventionally bred crop-varieties.

In clarifying the difference between GM and hybrid crop varieties, UBIC's Research Analyst - Gilbert Gumisiriza, drawing from the analogy of a ‘mechanic's toolbox, which has many tools suited to different purposes.' He explained that GM is just one tool in this toolbox of many and Ugandan scientists are using it to address only very specific challenges where the other tools have fallen short.

In his closing remarks, the College Dean – Mr. Bernard Mudonyi thanked UBIC and CLS for proactively engaging stakeholders and passing on key information to countervail the widespread misinformation. He stressed that such initiatives were invaluable opportunities to complement the College's academic mandate and also implored the students to embrace the onus of enlightening the public as agricultural professionals.

For further information, contact the UBIC coordinator at ubic.nacrri@gmail.com.


 

This article is part of the Crop Biotech Update, a weekly summary of world developments in agri-biotech for developing countries, produced by the Global Knowledge Center on Crop Biotechnology, International Service for the Aquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications SEAsiaCenter (ISAAA)

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