The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) says there is a need to establish common ground on the adoption of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in Africa.
The use of GMOs has been a matter of immense controversy in many parts of the world, including the COMESA region, since its introduction in the mid-90s.
“The prevailing arguments surrounding GMOs will never go away until all stakeholders come together and agree on the way forward,” said dr. Getachew Belay, who leads COMESA’s Alliance for Commodity Trade in Eastern and Southern Africa (ACTESA).
Belay says polarised views have thwarted progress in reaching consensus. While some COMESA members embraced biotechnology as a strategy to address agricultural productivity challenges, they have imposed strict use and liability clauses that have hindered the adoption of GMOs.
Belay says it is important to examine empirical experiences from countries that have taken the global lead in using biotechnology for food production.
BIOSAFETY AND CONTROL
Zambia has adopted a precautionary principle as required by the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety of GMOs and related products. Through this approach, Zambia developed the Biotechnology and Biosafety Policy of 2003, Biosafety Act number 10 of 2007 and other relevant statutory instruments and guidelines.
According to the National Biosafety Authority (NBA), the absence of appropriate regulations and guidelines, as well as inadequate human capital, research and containment facilities have made it impractical to use GMO intervention to sustain agricultural productivity.
Sudan is the only member state that has commercialised insect resistant Bt cotton. Ethiopia, Kenya, Swaziland, Uganda and Malawi were also at various levels of research ranging from confined to multi-location trial stages for a number of crops.
Uganda has over 15 cases of GMO research going on, targeting traditional staple foods such as cooking bananas, which are being tested for resistance against devastating banana bacterial wilt. Cassava, another food security crop, is undergoing GMO research to find resistance to two destructive diseases – cassava mosaic and the cassava brown streak.