African trading bloc ready to embrace transgenic products

The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) member countries on Wednesday expressed their readiness for the development and importation of genetically modified organism (GMO) products in the region.

Getachew Belay, COMESA Senior Biotechnology Policy Advisor, said the Africa’s largest trading bloc has experts and laboratories for testing GMOs.

“The region has trained scientists and some are currently working in other continents due to lack of developed systems in biotechnology development,” Belay told Xinhua in Nairobi on Wednesday.

He said the 19-member bloc has taken biotechnology seriously by putting down infrastructures as per the recommendations of the Cartagena protocol.

The countries are currently cooperating in creating an enabling environment for external, cross-border and domestic investment, including the joint promotion of research and adaptation of science and technology for development.

Belay said COMESA provides a technical opinion about the biosafety of GMOs seeking commercial status in the COMESA region, which can be used by individual countries to make decisions within their own biosafety regulatory frameworks, and also a harmonized mechanism for decision-making involving commercial planting, trade of GMOs and food aid with GM content in the COMESA region.

He noted that COMESA has helped member states share and build capacity to conduct risk assessment and management. It also established interactive regional information-sharing mechanism on biosafety and biotechnology issues.

Margaret Karembu, Director of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), said whereas several countries are making profits from biotechnology, African countries are still lagging behind due to unpredictable political and policy environment in supporting biotechnology research.

“Costly regulatory processes coupled with miscommunication of the technology are to blame for Africa’s slow uptake of the technology,” she noted.

Sudan is the only country in the region that is currently growing GMO. It has 100,000 acres under such crops since 2012 when the technology was introduced. Currently 97 percent of farmers are growing the GMO variety.

Kenya, Swaziland, Uganda and Malawi are at confined field trial stages for Bt. cotton, Bt. maize, virus-resistant cassava and sweet potatoes, bacterial-wilt-resistant banana and drought-tolerant water-efficient maize.

-Written by Peter Mutai (Xinhua, Nairobi) in Coastweek.com.  See original article link here.

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