Moment of truth for EAC countries over GM products

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Posted  Monday, August 9   2010 at  00:00

With the opening up of their borders under the Common Market protocol, East African countries face a new challenge of handling genetically modified products.

For instance, Kenya is almost ready to start commercial production of GM agricultural products — a development that could see the products enter neighbours’ markets courtesy of the Common Market.

“If GM products are grown in Kenya, they will definitely find their way into Uganda and Tanzania,” a food safety expert at African Biosafety Network of Expertise Dr Allan Liavoga told a regional workshop on biosafety and genetic modification.

In neither Uganda and Tanzania is commercial production permitted; the licences given are strictly for research into production of GM products.

Field trials are going on for production of GM cotton, cassava and banana.

Though the two countries have a policy, they do not have legislation while Kenya has the Biosafety Act.

The Act has already been operationalised into eight sets of regulations that would govern commercial production and importation of GM products for sale or for food aid.

However, the two are in the process of adopting the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety using a template developed by the African Union.

According to the acting chief executive of the National Biosafety Authority Harrison Macharia, the East African Community should take the lead in driving the process of harmonising these regulations.

“With the open borders, we need to be on the same page,” Mr Macharia said.

However, Dr Rishan Abdallah, who led the Tanzanian delegation to the meeting, said that the process of harmonisation is a drawn out one, which may require more efforts beyond just the EAC secretariat.

Dr Abdallah cited the harmonisation of seed policies by a working group which was facilitated by a different organisation before it was passed on to the EAC secretariat to implement in the countries.

Even as the EAC countries worry over harmonisation, a similar effort is going on elsewhere.

The Common Market for East and Southern Africa (Comesa) through the Alliance for Commodity Trade in Eastern and Southern Africa, which is developing a new set of policies governing commercial production, trade and emergency food aid in GM agricultural produce in Comesa.

African Agricultural Technology Foundation’s Dr Francis Nang’ayo said the EAC countries should take up these rules.

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