The Uganda National Council for Science and Technology (UNCST) organised the 2nd Biosafety Forum 2017 at Protea Hotel, Kampala (February 01 – 02, 2017). The theme of the forum was “Building Trust in Biosafety Regulation”. Over 80 delegates who included the National Biosafety Committee (NBC) members, Institutional Biosafety Committee members, Scientists/researchers, International Delegates, Members of Parliament, regulatory authorities’ staff members, representatives from government departments, Ministries, and the media attended the Forum.
The two-day discussions centered on: global and regional biosafety trends with close attention to Latin America experiences in regulation and Uganda’s readiness for environmental release of genetically modified (GM) crops; emerging gene techniques; progress and results, future projections, of genetic modification (GM) crop experiments in Uganda with evaluations on the implications for biosafety regulation in Uganda; and Uganda’s efforts towards having a fully-fledged biosafety regulatory system and its implementation.
The Chief Guest , Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, Hon. Elioda Tumwesigye, in his opening remarks, commended Scientists’ efforts in preparing in advance preparations to establish solutions to the challenges of poverty, disease burden, food insecurity and the long spells of drought affecting Uganda using Biotechnology that also has high prospects for steering a booming Bio economy. He applauded the enabling political environment that is very supportive of science, technology and innovation (STI) decrying, the absence of the biosafety law to enable safe application of biotechnology that explores enormous potential to help modernize agriculture and improve livelihoods. He reaffirmed that His Excellency the, President and the Government of Uganda are convinced of the immense benefits of biotechnology and expressed Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation’s commitment and support in efforts towards enactment and implementation of an enabling regulatory flame work.
The Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Science , Technology and Innovation , Mr. David Obong, underscored the need for a comprehensive communication strategy for biosafety, that is translated into local languages, as a means of effectively engaging the public on issues of biotechnology and biosafety.
The UNCST Deputy Executive Secretary, Dr. Maxwell Otim Onapa thanked participants mostly Scientists for their efforts in biotechnology and biosafety research and development. He applauded the forum as a key for networking and ensuring that scientists are abreast with emerging issues in the very dynamic fields of biotechnology and biosafety at national and global level. He pledged UNCST’s commitment to have this forum annually to ensure that there is transparency and public accountability in biosafety regulation in the Country.
The National Biosafety Committee, Chairperson, Dr. Charles Mugoya observed that in the more than 2 decades of the NBC’s existence, in the process of executing their mandate has built capacity of over 75 members, who now constitute part of the biosafety capacity, the country boasts of and highlighted the successes of the NBC, including overseeing 20 confined field trials of GM crops of rice, maize, banana, cotton, soybean, banana, potato and sweet potato in Uganda
The Chairperson UNCST, Dr. Theresa Sengooba commended His Excellency the President and Government of Uganda for their commitment to fostering science and technology-led development, as evidenced in the creation of a substantive Ministry for Science, Technology and innovation (MOSTI)
The Chairman of the S&T Parliamentary Committee of Parliament, Hon. Kafeero Ssekitooleko, who delivered the closing remarks at this Forum assured Ugandans that his committee was conducting consultations country wide to enable Parliament pass the National Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill, 2012 into law. He appreciated the scientific developments in Biotechnology and thanked UNCST for the leadership in Biosafety regulation. He urged scientists to provide all the facts about biotechnology and biosafety in a language that can be understood by the population.
Some of the key conclusions from the Forum were the urgent need for the enactment of the Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill, 2012 to fully operationalize and strengthen Biosafety regime in Uganda, development of a comprehensive National communication strategy for biotechnology and biosafety to increase public awareness. Scientists were also advised to indicate action plans and timelines involved in transitioning from experimentation, through to environmental release and finally commercialization of GM crops in anticipation of the enactment the law. There was also need for continued regional, international partnerships in biosafety regulation to match international Obligations.
The Forum was supported by the Program for Biosafety Systems (PBS)
Authored by M. Kwehangana, D. Kasule