Opinions Thu, 26 Dec 2013

Africa needs cost effective regulatory systems for biotechnology

By Samuel Hinneh

The fears and concerns expressed by individuals and different groups in Africa with regard to biotechnology have made the regulatory system cumbersome as most African countries decide on the adoption of the technology on commercial basis in food production.

In view of this, the Director of International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Application (ISAAA) AfriCenter, Margaret Karembu, says Africa needs to put in place biotechnology regulatory systems that are affordable to African farmers and researchers to ensure quick development of the technology products and accessed at a faster rate in the market.

With only four countries in Africa, South Africa, Burkina Faso, South Sudan, and Egypt applying the technology in cotton, maize and soybean, she notes that the regulatory system becomes a burden to the technology which has the capacity to help in achieving food security.

In situations the regulatory burdens are high, then it becomes only affordable to multinationals, said Karembu. The ISSA AfriCenter, based in Kenya, seeks to enhance food security and poverty reduction in sub Saharan Africa through appropriate biotechnological interventions.

“As an organisation, ISAA emphasises the need for a regulatory system that also supports public sector researchers to bring products to the market,” Karembu said during a workshop on biotechnology awareness creation in Tamale.

“There has been lots of misinformation about the technology already, so farmers and policy makers are fearful so they are not able to make the decisions fast as other countries have done,” said the Director of ISAAA AfriCenter.

Countries such as Ghana, Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, as well as Cameroun are all undertaking confined field trials for some biotechnology crops including cowpea, cassava, banana, and sorghum respectively.

“For a number of African countries, the policy makers and the politicians are not actively engaged in getting the information thus the science based evidence that is needed to enhance policy making is not favourable compared to countries that have adopted the technology.

“Policy makers and politicians need to be actively engaged in getting the science based information on the technology to make good policies with regard to biotechnology”, she said.

A plant breeder at the Crops Research Institute of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Dr Maxwell Darko Asante says Ghana is currently putting together the regulatory aspects of the biosafety act passed this year to allow the application of biotechnology in of food production.

“The regulatory aspect of the biosafety act is now before parliament to assist in the interpretation of the act.’’

According to him, the legal regime in the country promotes good environment to undertake confined field trials of GMOs and hopefully move it to the next stage of commercialisation.

Paul Dartey, plant breeder at the Crop Research Institute of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research also says it will cost very little for the national biosafety committee to pay visits to the confined field trials site of biotechnology crops such as rice to become abreast with the developments of the programme. According to Dartey, this will help to erase the fears and concerns expressed by some section of the public on the issue of safety of biotechnology crops.
Columnist: Hinneh, Samuel