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Africa's GM crop debate

GMO Safety speaks with Diran Makinde of the African Biosafety Network of Expertise in Burkina Faso and with Arthur Makara of the Science Foundation for Livelihoods and Development in Uganda


GMO Safety: Why have GM crops been introduced so far in only so few African countries?

Makinde: Africa is lagging behind in the adoption of GM crops because the technology lacks regulatory oversight. There are few biosafety laws and governments are not able or willing to proceed. Also, there is a lack of credible information and of expertise in the technology. Half-truths and misinformation created by activists also play a negative role.

Makara: The main reason for the slow uptake of GM crops in Africa is the strict regulation in Europe because a lot of African countries have strong ties with Europe, especially the UK. There are also trade relations. So the opinion in Europe highly influences events in this part of the world; African governments and the public follow the opinion in Europe.

GMO Safety: In the end, the slow process so far is a problem of public opposition or a regulatory issue?

Makinde: The problem is a combination of both, but to a greater extent of regulation. The public is unaware of the various efforts at regulating the products. If they were aware, there could be better reception of the technology. On the other hand, regulatory frameworks take a long time to be established since they have to undergo careful study by experts from the various government agencies. Some of the national frameworks are still unworkable and unenforceable; the private sector shuns countries with “unfriendly” frameworks. Lacking the capacities to carry out regulatory assessments also is a problem. The dossiers are too technical and voluminous for the untrained; it is a challenge to explain them to decision-makers.

Makara: Some countries already have working regulations in place to cover GM crops; others operate under interim regulatory frameworks. For instance, Uganda has a policy on biotechnology that empowers the country to go ahead with research and development of GM crops, although the final law is not yet approved. Uganda is similar to some other countries in having the structures and the capacity to carry out research on GM crops and to regulate them, but others have neither this capacity nor arrangements for risk assessment. Countries remain at different levels. Therefore, regional collaboration on biosafety, like in COMESA (Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa), is a great move.