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[KAMPALA] Uganda will soon be able to identify genetically modified organisms in food, thanks to new equipment worth US$50,000 that it hopes will also benefit its neighbours.

The equipment obtained last week — with funding from the UN Environment Programme Global Environment Facility — will be used at the National Agricultural Research Organisation's research laboratories institute in Kawanda, north of Kampala. 

Under the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, Uganda is required to identify and document genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food. 

Several techniques can be used for this and a common method is to detect the sequences of DNA that are most often used in genetically modified plants.

However the processes are often unaffordable to labs with few resources.

Until now Uganda had to send its samples overseas for GMO testing said Charles Mugoya, regional biotechnology coordinator at the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA).

Mugoya, who coordinates Uganda's National Biosafety Framework project, said ASARECA  plans to use the new tools for regional capacity building.

This could include allowing neighbouring countries lacking the capability to test for GMOs — for instance Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Sudan and Tanzania — to benefit from Uganda's equipment for a fee, he told SciDev.Net.

He added that the association is developing a regional policy on detecting and analysing GMOs, which will be submitted for approval to regional governments.

Arthur Makara, biosafety officer at Uganda's science and technology council, said Uganda will first train its own scientists for GMO detection and assessment before training technicians elsewhere in the region.

He told SciDev.Net that regional funding, for instance from ASARECA or the East African Community, could help make the Ugandan institute into a regional centre of excellence.

The equipment includes a DNA concentrator, a thermocycler with accessories, a gel documentation/analysis system; a set of pipettes and an ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay) micro-plate reader.