Learning lessons from the GM debate in Uganda | ActionAid UK

Late last week we found out that our office in Uganda was part of a wide ranging coalition which among other things was advising farmers that they could potentially contract cancer from growing genetically modified crops.

Polly is a smallholder farmer in Katakwi District, eastern Uganda
We work with farmers like Polly in Katakwi District, eastern Uganda to promote sustainable agriculture

This is not a significant part of ActionAid Uganda’s programme. Nevertheless our guidelines are very clear. They ask ActionAid country programmes not to take a position on the health impacts of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), because health related research is highly contested and we do not have the necessary expertise to make informed decisions.

When I contacted my counterpart, Arthur in Uganda he confirmed that the comments had been made as a small part of a two-hour interview with the journalist. But Arthur also acknowledged that ActionAid should not have been involved in the health debate around GM, and will not be in future.

Does ActionAid support GM technology?

I should say here that we are neither for nor against GM technology, but we do support a precautionary approach. The reality is that there have been mixed experiences with GMOs worldwide and that context is everything.

We do not run any global campaigns on GM, but in some countries there is an overlap between the GM debate and the challenges of feeding the world’s 935 million hungry people.

Working with farmers in Uganda to promote sustainable agriculture

Our expertise lies in tackling rural poverty and hunger through the promotion of sustainable agriculture.

One of the farmers we work with in Uganda is Polly Apio. She lives with her husband and 11 children in Odom Village, Katakwi District, a drought-prone region in Eastern Uganda. Polly grows oranges, groundnuts, cowpeas and cassava on 10 acres of family-owned land, which she uses to feed her family and make a living.

We work with farmers like Polly in Katakwi District, eastern Uganda to promote sustainable agriculture

With our help she is working to promote sustainable agriculture and the status of women farmers. Polly is an influential leader in her community and has spearheaded the creation of a cooperative for women farmers that pools community resources to build up local food stocks.

Supporting smallholder farmers, particularly women farmers is the real focus of ActionAid’s work in Uganda.

How can sub-Saharan Africa achieve food security?

Over 95% of the world’s agriculture is non-GM.

Sir Gordon Conway, Professor of International Development at Imperial College London acknowledges some role for GM, but goes on to say:

“Sub-Saharan Africa will achieve food security over the next couple of decades primarly through conventional means.”

We believe supporting climate-resilient sustainable agriculture is a productive and key means of tackling the climate and water stresses which are having such a detrimental impact on the ability of people living in poverty to grow their own food and feed themselves.

Of course we have learnt some important lessons this week about how we work as a federation across 45 countries. But it will not weaken our resolve to end global hunger.