CSOs call for organic food laws, ban on herbicides

A farmer applies herbicides in the garden. File Photo

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | The Civil Society in Uganda has called on the government to immediately ban the use of agrochemicals that have been identified as harmful to human and animal life, or banned in other countries.

These include glyphosate and glyphosate-based herbicides like Roundup, Rodeo Aquatic Herbicide, and Eraser which have been widely used to kill undesirable weed.

This is part of their call for action to the government and other agencies responsible for ensuring safe agricultural production and production of food safe for human and animal consumption.

They also ask the government to ensure the safe use of other chemicals including fertilizers and pesticides by farmers, traders, and other handlers.

According to them, misuse of chemicals also includes the timing of application on food, including spraying on products that are to be consumed immediately, like ripe tomatoes, allegedly to preserve them.

SEATINI-Uganda Chief Executive Jane Nalunga says this should be prevented by extension workers and health officials, and regulation of the importation of the chemicals should be enhanced.

The manufacturers of most of the chemical sprays give between 14 and 21 days after applying them on foodstuffs or crops before the food is consumed.

Since 2014, there have been calls for the government to intensify the fight against hazardous and counterfeit chemicals used in crop and animal husbandry, and a committee was appointed in June last year to be in charge of preventing these on the market.

Glyphosate has been banned in more than 20 countries, mostly in Europe and a number of US states, with some proponents of the ban saying it contains carcinogen, a cancer-causing ingredient.

The civil society groups include the regional trade rights organization, SEATINI, the Food Rights Alliance, and the food and health rights group, CEFTROHT.

They say that despite the increased talk of healthy dieting and contamination of what they call dangerous foods, undesirable agriculture practices are persisting, leading to the increase of contaminated foodstuff on the market.

They also urge the government to invest in research and production of organic and safe fertilizers on a commercial scale and drive the shift from conventional agriculture to agroecology farming.

The National Organic Food Policy and section 18 of the Agriculture Chemicals (Control) Act 2007 provide for the regulation of the use, transport, storage, advertisement and disposal of pesticides.

However, these have not been ably implanted to achieve the objectives they were established for, according to charities.

They also call for the introduction of the use of phytosanitary machines to examine food products before their supply on the market by farmers within a period of two years, or such reasonable time as the court may deem fit, of passing the judgment in this case.

The group has been in court since 2019 when they instituted action against the government for failing to act on the banned chemicals.

Soon after the petition was filed, the government appealed to the NGOs to withdraw it, saying that the newly introduced policy would answer the concerns raised.

David Kabanda, the Chief Executive Officer CEFTROHT, says they could not withdraw the case and continue to push for its conclusion.

He says that a policy cannot be used for legal action against anyone violating these rights, and that is why they are calling for the review of the laws.

Frank Tumwebaze, the Minister for Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries agrees that there are growing concerns over the use of chemicals, even though modern farming methods are being encouraged.

He also says counterfeits and misuse are increasingly reducing the ability of the inputs to lead to higher yield.

“Whereas the application of agrochemicals has several benefits which range from yield increase of agricultural crops and soil fertility to pest management, crop protection and increased productivity in the livestock subsector, over the past decade, there have been growing concerns on the low levels of efficacy of some of the available agrochemicals,” he said.

The minister last year appointed a committee to handle the concerns in the agrochemical industry, regarding production, import, trade, and use, with a duty to make a study and compile a report.

Robert Katemburura, Programs Coordinator at Africa Institute for Culture and Ecology on his part says the overuse and misuse of the chemicals is affecting the entire ecological system, including killing the natural plant pollinators and organisms that support soil nutrients.

Food Rights Alliance, on their part say the health of Ugandans should not be sacrificed for high yields by using dangerous chemicals.

Agnes Kirabo, the Executive Director says the government and in particular, President Yoweri Museveni should take keener interest and put into practice his usual healthy eating recommendations for the safety of all Ugandans.

This according to her, would also reduce the incidents of cancer in the country.

“As CSOs, we call upon the Government and MDAs to urgently audit the chemical and agrochemical manufacturers and suppliers in Uganda and ban hazardous agrochemicals, monitor the sale, use and regulate the promotion of agro-chemicals in Uganda.

Available farm research and testimonies from our local farmers have proved that application of natural, biological and organic methods for pest and disease control to be effective,” says a joint statement.

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