Last November, the National Agricultural Research Organization (Naro) took concrete steps towards beating off any opposition to the draft bio-technology and bio-safety legislation, commonly referred to as GMO Bill, The Observer has learnt.
Naro wrote to the NGO board complaining about several non-governmental organisations and civil society groups opposed to the bill. The Observer has learnt that many critical NGOs risk being de-registered following Naro's letter. Naro also complained to Makerere University about some of its lecturers, who had taken to demonizing the bill.
The activists, working under a loose alliance named Food Rights Alliance, are behind a media campaign against the bill now before Parliament. Promoters of the bill want government to block the NGOs' "illegal acts."
The Naro letter, dated November 8, 2013, follows an earlier one, of May 17, 2013, by the Uganda Bio-technology and Bio-safety consortium. This particular letter, addressed to Makerere University Vice Chancellor John Ddumba-Ssentamu, urged him to act on the staff opposed to the bill. The consortium singled out Dr Giregon Olupot, a soil scientist, for his fierce opposition to the bill.
"The essence of this communication is to bring to your attention these serious issues and request you to take action on these persons to stop such illegal actions that portray Makerere University negatively," reads the consortium's letter in part. This letter was followed by another one from Naro. According to the head of bio-technology at Naro, Dr Andrew Kiggundu, the letter was not intended to cause the sacking of anyone.
"Our intention is not to have the staff dismissed but we want the university to have control over their statements because they might be construed to be the universityís official position," Dr Kiggundu said.
Naro is particularly unhappy about advertisements on various radio stations across the country that it says portray the organisation negatively.
"Naro is concerned about the radio announcements that claim that we are poisoning Ugandans, we want the NGOs to substantiate these claims, we want to find out from the funders of that advert whether they have evidence," Kiggundu said.
The anti-GMO activists have been running radio adverts, facilitated by ActionAid, VEDCO (Volunteer Efforts for Development Concerns) and SEATINI (Southern and Eastern African Trade, Information and Negotiations Institute) calling on the electorate to lobby their MPs to reject the bill.
"Our research methods, technology testing and release are well documented; it is, therefore, shocking to hear some of the allegations aired in the mass media by some NGOs. There have been allegations that Naro technologies cause cancer and infertility. I wonder what research they have done to make this conclusion or which specific Naro technology they are referring to," read the letter, signed by Naro Director General Emily Twinamasiko, who has since passed on.
Twinamasikoís letter to the Chairman of Uganda National NGO Board lists ActionAid, Pelum Uganda (Participatory Ecological Land Use Management), ESAFF (Eastern and Southern Africa Small Scale Farmersí Forum), VEDCO, SEATINI and CAPCA ñ which are known to be critical of the bill.
"As an agency of government, our outputs are monitored by the ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries, and the Office of the Prime Minister. I don't know whether any of these NGOs get clearance from any of these authorities to make such statements." he wrote.
"I request you to warn these NGOs to desist from sabotaging government programmes and disadvantaging Ugandans in accessing improved technologies through broadcast of false and scary information. You should also task them to provide evidence for their pronouncements," Twinamasiko added.
ActionAid's advert is said to have infuriated government the most, especially because it criticized Naro for piloting GMOs even before the passing of the bill. But the NGOs insist they have done nothing wrong.
"The advert is telling the electorate to urge their leaders not to pass the bill in its current form and ask for a law that takes into consideration non-GMO alternatives. We believe that Ugandans need information, and we are creating this awareness because policy formulation should involve the common people," says ActionAidís Fredrick Kawooya.
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