East African nations discuss biotech laws

THE EAST African countries of Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda and Tanzania are cementing their countries support for biotechnology by developing laws that will give them a chance “to maximize benefits from modern biotechnology”.

Delegates from the three countries met in Nairobi, Kenya in May to share notes on their respective countries biosafety regulations and guidelines. The meeting was organized by ASARECA, a 10-member country regional body that brings together national agricultural research institutes (NARIs) from East and Central Africa. The main goal of the meeting was to share experience in drafting the biosafety regulations and guidelines and to ensure harmonization of frameworks ahead of the drafting of bills for discussion by respective countries' lawmakers.

Kenya appears to be far ahead in the region and sources told 'A Harvest’ that a GMO Bill “is not far from being finalized”. The National Council for Science and Technology (NCST) has been charged with the responsibility of drafting the bill and has solicited views from, among others, Africa Biotechnology Stakeholders Forum (ABSF), ISAAA AfriCentre and A Harvest Biotech Foundation International (AHBFI).

According to NCST's April 2003 draft biosafety regulations and guidelines, “Kenya considers the development of a biotechnology policy important because it would subsequently provide the framework for the safe development and application of this technology in the country”. In a country where the forest cover has dwindles from the desired 25% to less than 2%, it is instructive that the document recognizes that “biotechnology is a powerful agent for environmental restoration and protection”.

Meanwhile, a Country Paper on the Status of Biotechnology and Biosafety in Ethiopia says the country's main objective in developing biotech laws is “to build biotechnological capacity, promote sustainable utilization of resources, enhance agricultural and industrial production, protect and rehabilitate the environment, improvement of health and enhance the safe use of biotechnology”. The paper was prepared by the Ethiopian Agricultural Research Organization, the Ethiopian Science and Technology Commission and the Environmental Protection Authority. A similar draft by the Uganda National Council for Science and Technology (UCST) says its National Biosafety Framework was adopted by the Ministry of Environment two years ago, paving way for vibrant national debate on biotechnology.

The ASARECA meeting heard that Tanzania has not as yet developed an explicit policy on biotechnology although “the country is well aware that biotechnology holds a lot of promise towards current national development objectives”. Last year, Minister for Science and Technology established a National Biotechnology Advisory Council (NBAC), following recommendations of a National Biotechnology Stakeholders Workshop held the previous year. The national biotech policy is being formulated within the Tanzania Development Vision of 2025. - A Harvest


July 2003