Crop Biotech Update

African Biosafety Leadership Summit Tackles Gene Drive Technology

August 22, 2018

Deployment of gene drive technology as a complementary tool in the fight against intractable vector-borne diseases such as malaria would have the biggest impact in Africa. This was the key message from the 2nd African Biosafety Leadership Summit held in Nairobi, Kenya, August 17-18, 2018. The event, co-organized alongside the 7th Annual Biosafety Conference of the National Biosafety Authority, brought together 78 participants with expertise in biosciences, animal, health, and environment, as well as heads of biosafety regulatory agencies from 20 countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

Stakeholders shared experiences on existing country laws, practices, and capacities for research and regulation of emerging technologies, specifically gene drives and synthetic biology. A contrast from Living Modified Organisms was highlighted, with propositions made on risk assessment components to be considered on a case-by-case basis. The chair, African High-Level Panel on Emerging Technologies, Prof. Yaye Gassama informed participants that the African Union has identified gene drive technology as a potential new option to augment existing interventions in pursuance of achieving the African Union Agenda 2063. Dr. Willy Tonui, founder member the Association of National Biosafety Agencies in Africa (ANBAA), which co-supported the Summit argued, "Africa can take a leading position in research, development and implementation of these emerging technologies to address critical health, agricultural and environmental challenges currently facing the continent."

The summit also explored opportunities for developing consensus on regulatory and institutional frameworks to govern application of gene drive and synthetic biology, effective communication, and socio-economic implications of the technologies in Africa. Further, the delegation had an opportunity to discuss multilateral negotiations on biosafety issues to be discussed at the upcoming UN Biodiversity Conference in November 2018 in Egypt. ISAAA AfriCenter supported 25 experts and youth from Ethiopia, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sudan, and Uganda for the preparatory meeting.

For more information, contact Drs. Margaret Karembu (mkarembu@isaaa.org) and Willy Tonui (wtonui@gmail.com).