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African countries develop GMO policies

The 19 African nations, including Uganda and Egypt, that are members of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) – a free trade zone – have begun consulting on plans to harmonise their polices and guidelines on the commercial planting and trade in genetically modified crops.

The proposals call for risk assessments to be carried out at a regional level, but nations will retain powers to decide on commercial planting. The consultations began earlier this month and a decision on the proposals is not expected until late next year.

Currently, only a handful of African countries, including South Africa, have drawn-up polices on transgenic crops.

Arthur Makara, executive director of the Scifode Foundation, a civil society group promoting science and technology, said, “The news rules will accelerate the adoption of the technology [which has] enormous potential [to] reduce problems associated with food insecurity, meagre household income and vulnerability resulting from climate change.”

Carolina Kayonga, Rwanda’s environment and lands minster, added, “Biosafety issues transcend our national boundaries and that is where our collective and harmonised action is required if we are to make use of biotechnology in a safe way.”

See Nature’s feature on efforts to develop transgenic crops for the developing world.

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