By Duncan Mboyah
Member countries of Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in East and Central Africa (ASERECA) have accepted the adoption of Genetically Modified Organisms (Gmos) in the region.
In a communiqué read after the end of their two days meeting in Nairobi Kenya – 30th – 31st May, experts drawn from the countries recommended that commercial planting, trade and food aid on Gmos be centrally assessed in the region as a way of saving costs and sharing of the resources, information and expertise since all countries are not at par.
The experts that met under the auspices of the Regional Approaches to Biotechnology and Biosafety in east and south Africa (RABESA), a body that was set up after the Cartegena protocol came in force, directed that the commercial trade of Gmos be driven from a central regional clearing house as way of sharing information and also of benefiting from the technology.
Reading the communiqué that is due to be presented to relevant ministries in the 20 member states regional block, Comesa’s Senior Agricultural Advisor Dr. Cris Muyunda further notes that guidelines on food aid policy will also be developed at the regional level to help facilitate transit of food aid in neighbouring states.
He said that after the centralization of the above, all the governments will be responsible for making their individual decisions on the way forward.
The experts also supported the development of a regional centre of excellent in biotechnology and biosafety and the formation of a panel of experts to direct the technology development in the region.
They also called for internal and external assistance towards the provision of technical advice on issues pertaining to the development, handling and management of Gmos within the region.
They at the same time suggested that public awareness on Gmos be done at the national level as well as empowering the capacity of stakeholders on the subject.
On the role of Comesa, the experts challenged the organization to be proactive in collaborating with African Union, other regional economic communities, international organizations in raising the regions capacity in the area of biotechnology and biosafety.
The Executive Director of African Centre for Technology Studies Prof. Judy Wakhungu observed that the approach will help speed trade impediments and regulatory challenges that have in the past denied some countries access to food aid.
She noted that her organization in collaboration with Programmes for Biosafety Systems (PBS) under the umbrella of RABESA have undertaken stakeholders analysis in the regional countries by highlighting opportunities, challenges and positions related to trade on Gmos and food security.
“Of importance was the analysis of technical information on the economic costs and benefits of remaining a Gm free region and the justification for a regional policy,” she noted
According to the Coordinator of the University of Nairobi’s Biotechnology Unit Prof. James Ochanda the decision has now made it easier for countries without structures to benefit as well giving them opportunity to make their own approvals.
“ This is indeed a big step forward for Africa given that other continents have been ahead of us due to our indecisiveness”, adds Prof. Ochanda.
The move comes in the wake of a directive from Agriculture Ministers meetings in 2001, 2004 and 2005 in Uganda, Kenya and Egypt respectively that directed the experts to undertake consultations and evolve a regional policy.
Operating under the umbrella of RABESA, the experts have arrived at the decision following six meetings that were held in case study countries of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Zambia and Egypt.
The move by the countries comes at a time when most countries in the region are facing declining agricultural development forcing them to rely on food aid fro Europe and America.
As the genetically modified crops continue being planted globally since 1995, Africa has lagged behind with exception from South Africa that has so far grown cotton, maize and Soya.
Countries such are Kenya are in the forefront following the completion of a level 11 laboratory and a successful open field trial of Bt maize that was harvested recently. Other countries are also not left behind either.