Regulators urged to strengthen links


SADC countries must strengthen the links between national biosafety regulatory authorities to enhance the region’s capacity to manage and handle the potential risks associated with genetically modified organisms (GMO) products, a Government official says.

Zimbabwe’s Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development Deputy Minister Godfrey Gandawa told delegates at a regional biosafety training workshop held recently in Harare that strengthening linkages would help Sadc countries to manage biotechnology products given the fact that the countries share common borders across which goods and services move.

“Due to the porous nature of the Sadc borders there is need for a harmonized regional policy to address a number of issues related to the dynamism of scientific and technological innovations.

“This training will go a long way in disseminating knowledge on biotechnology and biosafety through the Sadc region in order to ensure sustainability of regional trade. We expect that the deliberations from the workshop will also support both policy and decision makers in Sadc,” he said

Biosafety refers to the protection of human and animal health and the environment from the possible effects of biotechnology products.

Biosafety regulators say a stronger and functional biosafety system is critical for the exploitation of the potential benefits of biotechnology and ensuring safe use of genetically modified crops in Africa.

“The need to build national and regional systems for risk assessment and strengthening biosafety frameworks is one of the priorities emerging from the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). 

We need to learn from each other and share good practices,” Gandawa said.

Africa’s science and agriculture ministers have endorsed the use of biotechnology as a tool to fight hunger and food insecurity on the continent.

COMESA through its Regional Biotechnology and Biosafety Program supported the National Biotechnology Authority of Zimbabwe (NBA) to organise the workshop which sought to promote the development of biosafety systems within the Sadc region.

Other partners which supported Zimbabwe to host the regional training workshop included the African Biosafety Network of Expertise (ABNE), Southern African Network for Biosciences (SANBio), Department of Science and Technology, Biosafety South Africa, Public Understanding of Biotechnology (PUB) and Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF).

NBA chief executive Jonathan Mufandaedza said the workshop sought to promote the development of biosafety systems at the regional and continental level.

“Zimbabwe stands ready to learn from experience of regional partners. With regional trade growing within the SADC region, the NBA feels that it would be beneficial to share biosafety experiences and offer training for the SADC region,” he said.

“It is generally considered that the most productive approach will be in the form of a workshop where experts interact with participants and share experiences on challenges and best practices of biosafety.”

A total of 76 participants drawn from Burkina Faso, Malawi, Swaziland, South Africa and Zimbabwe attended the workshop.

In Africa, only three countries – South Africa, Burkina Faso and Egypt have commercialised genetically modified (GM) crops, while 19 countries have established biosafety regulatory systems, four countries are developing regulatory systems, 21 countries are a work in progress, and 10 have no National Biosafety Frameworks (NBFs).

Experts say one of the reasons for slow adoption of biotechnology is the lack of functional regulatory systems, including inability to perform timely decision-making. – BH24

April 2015
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