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9-Misc: US projects try to push GE in Southern Africa

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TITLE:  Media Has Key Role In African Biosafety
SOURCE: Southern African Regional Biosafety Network, South Africa
        posted by AgBioView, USA
DATE:   November 2001

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Media Has Key Role In African Biosafety

The media has a critical role to play in the introduction of new technology 
such as biotechnology into Southern African countries. This was the 
conclusion of a Southern African Regional Biosafety network meeting on 
Information Dissemination.

"The region is flooded with misinformation about biotechnology and strong 
reservations exist at most levels" says Muffy Koch of SARB. However, the 
press and government want to know about practical effects. "The media and 
regulators/policy makers are very interested in examples of how the 
technology is impacting on small farmers in Africa and we need many more 
examples, like cotton in the Makhatini, to illustrate the potential of the 
technology," she says.

SARB was launched in 2000 and is administered by the Agricultural 
Biotechnology Support Project ( (ABSP) at 
Michigan State University, USA, but managed by the Vegetable and Ornamental 
Plant Institute (
intro.htm) (VOPI), Agricultural Research Council of South Africa. The 
programme aims to build regional policy and technical capacity to support 
science-based regulation of the development, commercial application, and 
trade in agricultural products derived from modern biotechnology. Regional 
co-operation and the harmonization of biosafety implementation in the 
region are also key to the project.

While the UNEP biosafety project will probably result in a degree of 
similarity between regulations, there are variations in the level of 
caution required from country to country, says Koch. However, she is 
critical of The African Model Law developed by the OAU (now the AU), saying 
that this is "a poor working model, designed to impede rather than promote 
safe and useful technology. Countries choosing this model will end up with 
regulations that cannot be implemented and will effectively ban the use of 
all existing products of GM, e.g. medicines, food ingredients and 
industrial enzymes, and contravene the terms of the Cartagena Protocol on 

Muffy Koch works in South Africa, one of the three SARB countries, also 
including Mozambique and Zimbabwe which are developing GM crops in-country. 
"Malawi is setting up GM facilities, but Zambia, Namibia and Mozambique 
have no GM capacity", she says. There is also a range of development of 
biosafety capacity, varying from no regulations (Mozambique) to draft 
regulations (Mauritius, Namibia, Malawi) to completed GM legislation (South 
Africa and Zimbabwe). "Most other African countries have no regulations, 
but Uganda, Kenya and Egypt have interim guidelines" she says. It will be 
some time before commercial approvals are given outside of South Africa, 
says Koch. "Egypt is the closest technically. The other countries are 3 to 
5 years away from this."

SARB has planned a series of in-country biosafety capacity building events, 
starting in 2001 and continuing into 2003. At the end of 2001 a detailed 
risk assessment-training course will be run for 35 regional scientists who 
will join a critical mass of biosafety review expertise in the region. 
"This expertise will be accessible to all countries in the region to ensure 
that sufficient capacity is available to assist governments in national 
decision-making" says Koch.

A risk assessment field trial to collect biosafety data on GM sorghum is 
scheduled for 2002-2003 and SARB will also focus on raising awareness about 
the role to biotechnology in government departments in the region. This 
will include a trip to China for government officials to investigate how 
relevant the technology is for small scale farming in the Southern African 

Contact Information
>From The AgBiotechNet, Institute of International Agriculture, Michigan 
State University, East Lansing , MI, 48824-1039, United States;

For more on developing country issues, visit our hot topic at


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