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May 26, 2010

COMESA to spearhead new policies for GM crops for eastern, southern Africa

by Cosmus Butunyi

A new set of policies governing commercial production and trade in genetically modified agricultural produce is set to come into force in East and Southern Africa.

The process of formulating the guidelines, which will also be applied for emergency food aid containing genetically modified organisms that enters the region, are being spearheaded by the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) through a specialised agency responsible for trade in agricultural commodities, the Alliance for Commodity Trade in Eastern and Southern Africa (Actesa).

Already, a team of experts from the region have developed draft policies that are awaiting endorsement by the Comesa council of ministers and heads of state summit. Actesa chief executive Dr Cris Muyunda, said that the new rules would accelerate the adoption of genetic engineering in the region in a bid to facilitate trade in agricultural commodities.

Presently, the value of intra-regional trade stands at $15 billion, out of which agricultural produce takes 40 per cent.  Muyunda said that was very low compared with the amount of food imports brought into the region, estimated at $20 billion.

“We are not supposed to import food, we have enough land to grow our own. The potential for increasing trade in agricultural products is very high,” he stated, adding that poor productivity had contributed to the current state of affairs.

The director of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications Dr Margaret Karembu said that this had resulted in Africa being the most burdened in terms of global hunger distribution.

Experts have stated that genetic modification provides an avenue through which agricultural productivity can be boosted to improve food security as well as trade in agricultural produce.

African countries are currently at different levels of adopting modern biotechnology, and so far, only three countries have embarked on commercial production: South Africa, Burkina Faso and Egypt. Out of these, only Egypt falls within the Comesa region.

Dr Michael Waithaka, a programme manager in charge of policy analysis and advocacy at the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (Asareca), said that a roadmap would be developed towards promoting commercial production of genetically modified organisms.

However, adoption of the technology has remained slow over the years, a trend that has been attributed to concerns over the technology’s effects on the environment and human health. This is despite biotechnology being recommended in important fora due to its potential to improve agricultural production in Africa.

Comesa panel of experts on biotechnology chairman Dr Abbas Kodjo said that heads of African states and governments under the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) have in the past recommended it for development. Kodjo added that the United Nations general assembly has also passed two resolutions calling for strengthening of biotechnology.

The East African

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