Uganda Passes Genetic Engineering Regulatory Act to the Applaud of Civil Society

AGRA Watch Celebrates Win for Ugandans & Civil Society

By Matt Canfield, AGRA Watch Member

For the past several years, AGRA Watch has worked closely with our allies to challenge the Gates Foundation’s efforts to push legislation through the Ugandan Parliament that will enable the commercial production of genetically engineered crops. The Gates Foundation and its grantee, the Cornell Alliance for Science, have aggressively pushed the government to allow GE crops and particularly the “biofortified” banana. In 2017, the Ugandan Parliament passed a Biosafety Bill that would allow GE crops, but the President sent it back with concerns about protecting indigenous crops. Now in 2018, the Ugandan Parliament has passed a new bill, the Genetic Engineering Regulatory Act, which makes clear what the subject of this law is. The Bill is a major win for civil society, because it includes clear protections for farmers by ensuring benefit sharing a strict liability for the corporations marketing and developing genetic engineered seeds. The Gates Foundation, its grantees and subsidiaries continue to push countries to an industrial agenda in Africa and new technologies that will consolidate control over food and agriculture. But today, we celebrate a major win for our allies!

Read Matt’s recent blog report on Agroecology in Action in Uganda here.

Ugandan agroecological farmer Champad Andrew cutting bananas on his farm. Photo taken by Matt Canfield.

Civil Society Statement on the Passing of the GE Regulatory Act in Uganda

3rd December 2018

We the undersigned civil society organisations – including farmers organisations, Faith based organisations, women organisations, trade activists, economic policy organisations, consumer groups and environmentalists – hereby express our appreciation to Parliament of Uganda for addressing our long standing concerns in this bill.

These concerns were also raised by His Excellency the President of Uganda in his letter to parliament on Dec. 21st 2017

Over the last 12 years, CSOs and other Non-State Actors in Uganda have cautioned the Government’s decision to introduce and promote GMOs in our farming and food systems; as has been reflected in the various versions of the National Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill 2012 -passed by Parliament on October 4, 2017; The National Biosafety Act, 2017 and on November 28, 2018 passed again as the Genetic Engineering Regulatory Act 2018

Our long-standing concerns with the contents of the law and the manner in which it was being developed to introduce GMOs in our agricultural sector. These were compromising the rights of small holder farmers who are majority of those in the agriculture sector. Right Food, Right to a clean Environment, sustainable development, sustainable diets and biodiversity of crop, animal, fisheries and insects and the growing economic market potential of organic products in the Global market.

These concerns were reteriated by the President in his letter to the speaker dated December 21, 2017 emphasizing “naming of the Law- Biosafety Act while it actually talks about Genetically Modified Organisms. The Rights of Ugandan farmers that have for generation after generation have developed, managed, conserved and preserved the country’s genetic resources of crops, animals,  herbs, insects and fish,  total contamination of the farming system due to unregulated random introduction of GMOs all over, protection of the organic materials,  use of poisons and dangerous bacteria as inputs in genetic engineering,” protection of indigenous varieties and breeds, protection of consumers, the competent authority to oversee the provisions of the Law and labelling.

Our concerns and indeed those of the President are global concerns about genetic engineering that is why the Cartagena Protocol that emphasizes the precautionary principle an Uganda is a signatory.

Fellow Ugandans and concerned Stakeholders, regarding the law that was passed on November 28th 2018, the following critical clauses were inserted or clarified which  to our best thoughts can provided some safeguards to you, our farming and food systems, our biodiversity, the environment and the economic opportunities secured in the organic and GMO free  markets.

The critical clauses in the Genetic Engineering Regulatory Act are as follows;

  1. Liability and Redress Mechanism;

The advancement of modern biotechnology requires precautionary approach in addressing safety issues. Uganda is a party to the Cartagena Protocol which mandates  states to take regulatory measures even if there is no certainty of the harm occurring. This is because of the nature of the technology which presents adverse risks. Previously, the liability and redress system was vaguely defined to give protection to GMO developers promoting their technologies and thereby ignoring the rights of farmers

  1. The principle of strict liability:

This provision has been included in our law. Basically, strict liability states that whoever introduces a GMO shall be legally responsible for any damage caused as a result of the product or a process of developing it. This clause is very essential as it is of such clauses that  operationalizes the precautionary principle which is a key tenet of the Cartagena Protocol to which Uganda is a signatory.

This clause will ensure that our knowledge, ecosystems, health and nutrition are protected.  It also importantly protects the indigenous knowledge systems or technologies of our communities here in Uganda.

  1. Title of the bill: Genetic Engineering Regulatory Act 2018

By renaming The National Biosafety Act, 2017 and its previous versions of the National Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill to the Genetic Engineering Regulatory Act, 2018, the essence of the bill has been captured and aptly represents the contents of the bill which is GMOs and its regulation.

  1. Benefit sharing:

This clause protects the rights of the communities since time in millennia who have developed, shared and saved indigenous seed. Africa is facing an onslaught of GMO developers who take indigenous seed and patent them without recognizing the rights of farmers. Therefore this provision protects the right to fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of genetic resources through a benefit sharing agreement.

  1. Labelling

A comprehensive labelling and liability traceability system is key feature of any biosafety law. Labelling should includes relevant traits and characteristics given with sufficient detail to enable traceability. A clause has been introduced in the new law that products should be labelled “contains genetically engineered material.” This will help consumers exercise their right to choose products free from GMOs.

  1. Contamination and Co- existence:

Effluent/ run off from GMO material should never mix with organic materials and the farmers are protected with this clause. There are several cases in countries where GMO has been commercialized and farmers have been penalized for contamination of GMOs.

A provision on co-existence of farming practices is now included in our law. Essentially; a person who cultivates any GMO shall prevent contamination or commingling of GMO crop with any genetically modified crop.  Secondly any person who keeps or owns genetically modified livestock shall prevent cross breeding between genetically modified and non- genetically modified livestock

This clause is important in order to prevent contamination by effluent and environmental damage caused by genetic engineering activities.

  1. Home of the Competent Authority

A provision that provides for an independent council known as The National Genetic Engineering Council which will be domiciled at the discretion of the President. This is a welcome provision and ensures that the promoters of GMOs are not the same people who will regulate the development of genetic engineering in the country.


  • The Act should be made available to all concerned stakeholders
  • There’s need for state, farmers and Non State Actors to understand the Act and its implications.
  • At a later date we shall have another conversation after studying the Act in detail.

Presented and signed

  1. Participatory Ecological Land Use Management (PELUM Uganda)
  1. Food Rights Alliance(FRA)
  1. Southern and Eastern African Trade Information and Negotiations Institute (SEATINI Uganda)
  1. Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA)
  1. ESAFF Uganda
  1. Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (ACODE)
  1. Slow Food Uganda
Posted in Agra Watch Blog Posts, News, Projects, Slider.

One Comment

  1. Hey Friends of Uganda,

    I think the clauses have ignored provisions of the catagena protocol and lack important definitions and categories of herm and damage for which procecussion of such become impossible. Couldn’t you have done a better job to be able to make this act more effective? The introduction of new terminology like genetically engineered material includes products the drugs. Uganda is already using GMO Ebola vaccine on it’s health workers.

    -The strict liability clause is vague and indeed you need to study these more and comeback for a discussion. Designed to to be a no-fault liability (strict liability) is a shame and indeed unconstitutional as it negates the right of freedom of innocence. The right to presumption of innocence before found guilty which is a non derogable human right. Shame on the drafters.

    -Complete ignorance of how government’s work. Governments do both promotion and regulation including the president. The president of Uganda is such a supporter of science research and innovation too.
    -Labling of matooke, cassava, roasted maize and the informal sharing of seed among family and community has been completely ignored. Complete ignorance and sentimental thinking the clouds critical intelligence.


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