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African trading bloc ready to embrace transgenic products

By Peter Mutai NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) member countries on Wednesday expressed their readiness for the development and importation of genetically modified organism (GMO) products in the region.

Getachew Belay, COMESA Senior Biotechnology Policy Advisor, said the Africa’s largest trading bloc has experts and laboratories for testing GMOs.

“The region has trained scientists and some are currently working in other continents due to lack of developed systems in biotechnology development,” Belay told Xinhua in Nairobi on Wednesday.

He said the 19-member bloc has taken biotechnology seriously by putting down infrastructures as per the recommendations of the Cartagena protocol.

The countries are currently cooperating in creating an enabling environment for external, cross-border and domestic investment, including the joint promotion of research and adaptation of science and technology for development.

Belay said COMESA provides a technical opinion about the biosafety of GMOs seeking commercial status in the COMESA region, which can be used by individual countries to make decisions within their own biosafety regulatory frameworks, and also a harmonized mechanism for decision-making involving commercial planting, trade of GMOs and food aid with GM content in the COMESA region.

He noted that COMESA has helped member states share and build capacity to conduct risk assessment and management. It also established interactive regional information-sharing mechanism on biosafety and biotechnology issues.

Margaret Karembu, Director of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), said whereas several countries are making profits from biotechnology, African countries are still lagging behind due to unpredictable political and policy environment in supporting biotechnology research.

“Costly regulatory processes coupled with miscommunication of the technology are to blame for Africa’s slow uptake of the technology,” she noted.

Sudan is the only country in the region that is currently growing GMO. It has 100,000 acres under such crops since 2012 when the technology was introduced. Currently 97 percent of farmers are growing the GMO variety.

Kenya, Swaziland, Uganda and Malawi are at confined field trial stages for Bt. cotton, Bt. maize, virus-resistant cassava and sweet potatoes, bacterial-wilt-resistant banana and drought-tolerant water-efficient maize.



Kenya to adopt development of synthetic biology technologies

NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- Kenya is in the process of adopting synthetic biology technologies research and its commercialization, a senior government official has disclosed.

A Principal Scientist at the National Commission for Science, Technology and Innovation (NACOSTI) Dr. Benson Kinyagia said on Wednesday that Kenya has seen the potential in investing in the area in helping harness its potential in the industrial development.

“We intend to develop a policy on synthetic biology to enable the country tackle disease, food and energy production, clean water and waste management challenges,” Kinyagia said during a workshop on synthetic biology at a Nairobi hotel.

The field of synthetic biology aims to define a framework for accelerating the engineering of biological systems and cells for useful applications as well as furthering fundamental understanding of living systems.

It adopts an engineering approach for the systematic design and construction of new biological systems and cells at the genetic level and is inherently interdisciplinary bringing together biologists, engineers, computer scientists, social scientists, designers and artists.

Kenya will be the third country in Africa after South Africa and Egypt once the technology takes shape. Europe and Asia have already adopted the technology.

Kinyagia observed that synthetic biology technology is the route to realizing global development after the agricultural revolution, industrial revolution and technology.

“With the depletion of the natural ecosystem and biodiversity, there is need to develop synthetic biology research,” he added.

The Director General of NACOSTI Dr. Moses Rugut said that Kenya and other east African countries are due to start exploring synthetic biology technology through academic scientists and student exchange in the United Kingdom.

“We intend to establish potential research collaboration focused on the identified application areas,” he added.

He said that Kenya has identified 14 research programs where local researchers will engage with the British researchers.

Dr. Julia Kemp, head of research at the Department for International Development (DFID) hailed east African governments for realizing the importance of science and innovation.

She said that through the Newton-Utafiti Fund, the bilateral science relationship with the region will provide a platform to develop new knowledge partnerships in science, technology and innovation.



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