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November 29, 2011

Pros and cons of approving GM crops discussed at Tanzania workshop

by Finnigan Wa Simbeye

A legal officer at the Kenyan Vice- President's Office, Isakwisa Lameck said the country should tread slowly and carefully before allowing GMOs to be researched in the country prior to their being authorized for cultivation and consumption.

He said while Kenya and Uganda have allowed confined field trials for GE crops, Kampala does not have even a law to government such research work. "We should be allowed to take time before adopting the technology," Lameck said during a Agriculture Council of Tanzania stakeholders' workshop held in Dar es Salaam recently. Researchers are pressing for a review of the country's restrictive regulations.

"We should be allowed to do some research so that the government can make informed decisions. As we stand now, our researchers have to go to Kenya or Uganda to do their work on GMOs," argued Dr Roshan Abdallah from Tropical Pesticides Research Institute (TPRI).

Dr Abdallah pointed out that delays in reforming the country's rigid laws against GE crops is denying farmers an opportunity to adopt useful technology that can change poverty levels in rural areas as yields will be increased.

She noted that as climate change takes its toll of the country's weather pattern with frequent droughts, GE crops are a solution to ensure food security and poverty reduction.

"We shouldn't be left out while the whole world is adopting this technology," Dr Abdallah argued as officials at Commission for Science and Technology (Costech) express frustrations against the slow pace of reforms to accommodate GMOs.

In Africa, only South Africa and Egypt have allowed commercial cultivation and consumption of GE crops while Mali has adopted GE cotton only. Many African countries are skeptical of the technology which it's adversary warn has unknown environmental and health hazards.

Worldwide less than 16 countries led by the United States and Brazil allow cultivation and consumption of Frankenstein crops.

Presenting a paper on 'Increased Agricultural Productivity,'Prof Deogratius Rutatora said local farmers yield between 1.5 to 1.7 metric tons of maize per hectare because of poor quality of seeds used, low fertilizer use and low level of education among rural farmers.

Prof Rutatora said the country's agriculture sector is generally stunted in growth although efforts have been made over the past five decades to improve the situation with annual growth of 4.4 per cent last year from 3.3 per cent over two decades ago.

"Sometimes I wonder why are we continuing with subsistence farming," wondered the Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA) don.

Agriculture's contribution to gross domestic product has decreased from over 44 per cent in 1980s to less than 30 per cent at present. Babati Rural lawmaker, Jitu Soni urged the government to speed up establishment of an agriculture bank this fiscal year, to bail out farmers from harsh lending conditions including hiked interest rates charged by banks.

"We have already endorsed the government's budget in parliament and look forward to establishment of the bank," Mr Soni noted.

Soni said rural farmers face a lot of problems including financing, lack of extension officers and poor infrastructure to access markets. President Jakaya Kikwete has pledged that his government will allocate 100bn/- annually to support the agrobank in the next five years.

Tanzania Daily News

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