By Bidi Halid

Last night, I spent time reading that missive rambling and meandering letter by Prof. Ogenga Latigo, about GMO(genetically modified organism). The aim, was to help local farmers to identify their needs and understand the benefits of GMO. The good professor and law maker, was also trying to put his case and convince his fellow law and policy makers pass the controversial bill and embrace GMO.

Unfortunately, Prof. Latigo, I think, because of his scientific and rambling language, he did not only leave most of his fellow half baked lawmakers confused, but left the poor local farmers who may take time to read his completely confused and more lost.

Sadly, for me, I had to read the whole thing up to end. I was expecting him to at least address the two or three major concerns of Ugandans and Africans, but nothing came by.

Which are among others;

1 – The costs to poor.

Can we poor Africans afford these seeds? Which we can not replant. But only to buy and worst of all from a white, profit motivated man, 1000s of kilometers away from home. And this for Season after Season, Year after Year.

What and how will a poor old man/woman from Agago, Kidera, Karamoja or Kiboga do, who does not sleep with 1000 Ugandan shilling for months? What if one buys the seeds and for two or 3 three seasons the weather is not good and everything dies in soil, like it always happens mostly in the north, where you come from?

Are you not setting a pace to turn our people into slaves? If they can fail to buy Paracetamol, to treat a headache, where do you expect them to raise money, at least twice a year, to buy seeds for planting? Unless you want them to leave and die as beggars. Like you treat them during elections with 500 shillings for a vote or a piece washing soap.

2 – The health and environmental concerns

There are continous allegation, that GMO foods may be respossible for health problems. The most talked about being cancer. And Ugandans have of late been awakened and are well aware of this problem, which is also worsened by luck of medication in this country.

Although, Latigo and his colleagues can be taken out of the country for state of the art medication, at the expense of the very poor. The good professor again did not talk about and or address himself to this concern

3 – Why is GMO being kicked out of Europe and the Americans?

Yet again, Latiga failed to address this. He simply tried to explain how he is highly educated and knowledgeable on this subject. But wait a minute, how highly educated and knowledgeable on this subject is Latigo, than the Europeans, Canadians, and Americans? Who are time and again presenting big and unanswered questions on this subject?

I refer Ugandans to lawsuits, in California and other states in America; Lawsuits in Australia and Canada about contamination, In the Paris France and European Courts. And all those by local farmers. Question can Uganda as a country, let a lone a poor Ugandan local farmer, afford such expensive court cases? In case we befall a serious problem as a result of this GMO.

In most of these countries, people and their farms are insured. If they buy bad seeds they can be compensated. The same is true, if one gets sick because of bad GMO foods, they are not only treated and treated well in good hospital, but they are also compensated. Unlike in Museveni and Latigo’s Uganda. But they are not taking chances. Why bring this to Uganda at this time? Given our level of corruption and health situation.

4 – GMO Contamination of Organic Farms

I also expected Latigo, to address himself to the issue of contamination of Organic Farms, but he was nowhere. It have been proven in a landmark case in both Canada and Australia, among other countries, that if one person grows GMO seeds, the farms and plants around are equally affected through cross pollination. Today, there is case in California and Australia, where farmers are suing for loss of between 70 to 100 % of their earning because GMO foods and contamination.

Which means, that even unwilling participants become victims of this GMO. And after a couple of seasons everyone around will be, by force, growing, having and eating GMO foods. This brings me to the question of “Patent Rights”

5 – Patents rights on these sends

Because these are and will always be industrial produced products, we hear and truly so, that they will be owned by individuals and or groups of individual. This means that in future, for one to grow the said seeds, one must have permission from the owner. I equally expected the good professor to clearly put that to rest. But kumbe wapi?

In this world, where we leave today, full of blackmail and hostage taking, how do you asure Ugandan and Africans that patent right owners, will not one day blackmail our people and hold them hostage, in order to get food on table.

6 – Why not talk Mechanisation of Agriculture?

Yes, I am not an authority on agriculture like Latigo, but I don’t agree with Prof. Ogenga Latigo and others, who continue to argue that, we need GMO to address famine and or lack of food in Uganda and Africa at large. This is purely wrong and GMO is not the solution, but rather a problem.

The solution lies in modernization and mechanization of agriculture. Ugandan land, like most of Africa, is still virgin and fertile. But expecting people in Agago still digging land for food and sell using a handheld hoe is just too much. In Uganda, like in most of Africa, there are more Mambas and tear gas vehicle than Tractors.

What the good professor and his likes should be doing, is to convince his fellow lawmakers and General Museveni, to reduce the number of Members of Parliament, RDCs, Presidential advisers Mamas and Teargas. And replace all that and the expenses which go with them to buying ” Tractors” and other farm equipments as the beginning.

7 – Marketing, Storage and Transportation

Latigo and I must have seen food rotting in one place of Uganda, yet in another places people are dying of hunger. We have seen mangoes rotting in Luwero, just a few kilometers from Kampala, Yet supermarkets in Kampala, are selling mangoes and other fruits from as far as South Africa. And funny enough, even selling fruits from desert countries in Middle East with no water. We see Trucks getting stark on bad roads with Matoke in Kiboga, yet there is no food in Kampala.

I, a few years ago, witnessed farmers crying with maize in Busoga and in Kiryandongo in Bunyoro, Some selling it at a throw way price of just 50 to 100 a kilo. Unable even to get 20% of the planting costs back. In this particular season, the beneficiary was a member of the first family, who used free government transport, free storage in Nalukolongo, Kampala and sold the same at more than 15 times. Hence to ripping from the very poor man’s sweat.

This, left many farmers crying and vowing never to plant more than their domestic needs. And this is the same story across Africa, and having had the opportunity to visit most African countries, save for western African, I speak with authority on this.

In this conundrum, farmers end up losing whatever they have mortgaged in Banks including land and houses. Which can never be in Europe and else where. In otherwards, a government can’t tell you to plant something and fail to find a market it, store and or tramport it. Like it has been the in Uganda year in year out. For this, at least credit must go to past leaders Amin Dada and Obote, the two, at least tried to address the problems of storage, marketing and transport.

What I am saying is, that with good and organised marketing, storage and transportation, there can never be famine in Uganda. But because of corruption, greedy and ready made food AID from international organisations and countries, some people have made it a job and are always there to raise false flags.

Yes, Prof. Ogenga Latigo, claims that he can never be bribed by any international organisation behind this bill. Well maybe, but history is not on his side. First the parliament where he sits is no record as one of the most corrupt. Many were given just over 1000 dollars to rape and destroy the Ugandan constitution.

Latigo says that, “more importantly, he saw the potential of Molecular Biology as long ago as the late-1980s when I was winding up his PhD studies at the International Centre for Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE), Nairobi”.

True, I had rear privilege to visit and be taken around (ICIPE) by my friends, a Kenyan, an Ethiopian and a Uganda, who is now a lecture in the same subject in a top University in America. If Latigo was fair enough to us, he would have told us the people and institutions behind this research centre and their interests. I know, and the good professor knows it, that the biggest funders are not Africans and their have interests.

I have also had chances to attend a couple of farmers dialogue conferences in Europe and Asia, where the biggest topic has always been how to feed the world, but GMO has never been paraded as the top solution. This also gave the opportunity to interact with people from across the world, including Europeans and Americans, but those people really detest and hate GMO food. Question is where will Uganda sale GMO products then?

I request Latigo and Ugandan Mps to look Ugandans in the eyes and address their utmost questions

Mr. Bidi Halid is small farmer, a friend and former visitor of Farmers Dialogue International and a human rights campaigner.