Friday

UNEP offers to assist African governments develop GMO structures

By Duncan Mboyah

The United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP)is undertaking a multi million dollar capacity building project that is being funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) to help 100 developing countries (30 African countries included)have skills and laws needed to accept or reject Genetically Modified foods (Gmos).

According to UNEP’s Executive Director Dr. Achim Steiner the organization in a study has found out that genetically modified crops (Gmos) could help in the war against famine and hunger and thus play a part in meeting internationally agreed development goals.

Launching Africa’s environmental outlook report in Nairobi, Steiner noted that nearly 20 African countries including Morocco, Kenya, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Benin, Cameroon and Mali are now growing or Field testing GMOs.

He observes that UNEP is interested in assisting the countries after realizing that one of the environmental emerging issues focuses on how the region is responding to the promises and potential pitfalls of gene modified plants.

Steiner added that concerns and worries from a cross section of the population that such crops may be seen as “silver Bullets” hence deflecting attention from more fundamental issues of hunger, like poor food distribution systems, the inability of the poor to get access to crop lands and environmental mismanagement has necessitated the support.

“There is also concern that too few African countries have the Scientific, legal, risk assessment and administrative structures in place to deal with this new generation of crops”, he noted.

According to the recently released Global status of commercialized genetically modified crops, 8.5 million farmers in 21 countries planted the crops in 90 million hectares , equivalent to 22 million acres as at the year 2005 since the crops first planting in the year 1996..

The report that was released by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri – Biotech Applications (ISAAA) reveals that out of the 21 countries growing the crops, 11 are from developing countries and 10 from industrialized countries.

The countries are USA, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, and china, Paraguay, India, South Africa, Uruguay, Australia, Mexico, Romania, Philippines, Spain, Colombia, Iran, Honduras, Portugal, Germany, France and the Czech Republic.

Despite having launch a massive campaign that included supporting Non Governmental Organizations in developing counties against the technology; European countries have also seen the commercial value of the crops. Canada, Uruguay, Spain, Germany, Portugal, France and Czech are now the leading growers from the continent.

Biotech rice was commercially grown for the first time last year by Iran on approximately 4,000 hectares by several hundred farmers. Being the principal food of the world’s 1.3 billion people, the crop has the potential to alleviating poverty, hunger and malnutrition.

China one of the leading rice producers in the world is in the process of field testing the genetically modified variety that is due to be approved immediately after the final trials.

Genetically modified Soya bean continued to be the principal biotech crop in 2005 with 54.4 hectares and followed by maize - 21.2 million hectares, cotton – 9.8 million hectares and canola – 4.6 million hectares.

The herbicide tolerant Soya bean, maize, canola and cotton are the dominant trait so far grown by most farmers, followed by Bt insect resistant and stacked genes.

Of the countries that are already commercially growing the genetically modified crops, south Africa is the only country from Africa, a continent where lack of technical know how is blamed for slow adoption rate of science.

This is blamed on the African government’s reluctance to have a policy in place and also reluctance to allocating enough funds for science development despite calls from scientists and donors.

Countries such as Kenya have already conducted trials in collaboration with foreign stakeholders on maize and cotton but still lacks a legal policy to enable scientists involved unveil their product to the farmers.

It is now believed that a recommendation by member countries from the Common Market for East and South Africa (COMESA) and ASERECA that all the regional countries conduct a joint research on Gmos will help hasten the adoption of the crops in the
continent.

The Writer who is a Nairobi based Journalist can be reached at duncanmboyah@yahoo.co.uk

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