Crop Biotech Update

COMESA Undertakes National Consultations on Draft Biosafety Guidelines

September 24, 2010

The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) has commenced implementation of national consultations on draft regional Biosafety guidelines among member states. The consultations were prompted by a decision of the Third Meeting of the Joint COMESA Ministers of Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources during their annual meeting in July 2010, in Lusaka, Zambia. The first round was held in Uganda [September 3], Ethiopia [September 16] and Rwanda [September 21-22].

Dr. Getachew Belay, Senior Biotechnology Policy Advisor at COMESA, noted that the regional harmonization process aims at sharing information, resources and expertise for cost-effectiveness in capacity building and drawing synergies to avoid redundancies. Biosafety Focal points in each of the countries led the discussions. Hon. Hope Mwesigye, Uganda Minister of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries, stressed the importance of balance in discussing the guidelines, "I believe there is a whole lot of grey areas in knowledge and views for the technology to be used safely and responsibly", she said. Belete Geda of the Ethiopian Environmental Protection Agency welcomed the regional approach "as long as it is aligned with the national Biosafety laws".

Ms. Carolina Kayonga, Permanent Secretary, Rwanda Ministry of Environment and Lands applauded the regional approach while acknowledging that COMESA countries are at different stages in biotechnology application and cannot isolate themselves from their neighbors. "It is obvious that biosafety issues transcend our national boundaries and that is where our collective and harmonized action is required if we have to make use of biotechnology in a safe way". Dr. Rose Mukankomeje, Director General, Rwanda Environmental Management Authority, urged scientists to reach out to policy makers to inform evidence-based decisions. The support for a regional approach was unequivocal and the feedback obtained from the national consultations is critical to improve the draft guidelines.

The guidelines on commercial planting, trade and access to emergency food aid were developed under RABESA-Regional Approach to Biotechnology and Biosafety Policy in Eastern and Southern Africa project, initiated by COMESA Ministers of Agriculture in cognizance of the importance of regional cooperation in Biosafety matters. The consultations will continue in all COMESA Member States, Dr. Belay disclosed.

For more on COMESA Biotechnology and Biosafety guidelines contact Dr. Getachew Belay, Senior Biotechnology Policy Advisor, ACTESA/COMESA at gbelay@actesacomesa.org and Dr. Michael Waithaka of ASARECA at m.waithaka@asareca.org