African countries urged to speed up the passage of biosafety legislations

African countries have been urged to speed up with their biosafety legislations to allow capacity building in modern biotechnology application.

“The capacity building should include stewardship that would allow for safe quality product development,” Professor Walter Alhassan, Coordinator, Project on Strengthening Capacity for Safe Biotechnology Management in Sub-Saharan Africa (SABIMA), said when launching the 2010 Global Status Report on Commercialised Biotechnology and Genetically Modified (GM) Crops in Accra.

The launch, which is the sixth in the series promotes awareness creation on biotechnology, progress made and challenges to be addressed to promote use of the technology to address global agriculture.

Biotechnology is the use of living organisms to produce a product or service for use using the tools of tissue culture, molecular characterisation for identification purposes in plant breeding, diagnostics, fermentation and genetic engineering.

Prof. Alhassan explained that though Ghana had legislative instrument in place to allow the processing of applications for research up to the open quarantine or confined field trial level, but the legislation for commercial release of GM crops was still in Parliament receiving attention.

He noted that possible dangers in delayed bio-safety legislation in Ghana included possible smuggling of Bt cotton also known and GM cotton from Burkina Faso into Ghana by Ghanaian Farmers as well as uncontrolled mixing of GM and non GM cotton, which make the quality of Ghanaian cotton compromised.

Prof. Alhassan said in Africa, South Africa, Egypt and Burkina Faso were the countries that had bio-safety legislation in place and had access to the biotechnology tools.

He noted that with modern biotechnology, intractable pests and diseases of plants and animals could be controlled, enhanced nutrition as well as help plants cope with diverse soil conditions, droughts, high salt contents and poor soil fertility.

“After 15 years of commercial GM crops, perceived risks such as toxicity, destruction of non target organisms and allergenecity have been proven scientifically. Nevertheless, there is need for precaution as the use of the technology is promoted,” he added.

Giving highlights of the report, Prof. Alhassan said the five leading developing countries in biotechnology crops were China and India in Asia, Brazil, Argentina and South Africa.

He said from 1996 to 2009, biotech crops contributed to the sustainability and climate change by increasing crop production and value by 65 billion dollars; provided better environment by saving 393 million kilogrammes of pesticides.

Numbers of countries planting biotech crops increased from 25 to 29 in 2009 for the first time adding that each of the top 10 countries grew one million hectares of biotech crops.

In 2010 a record of 15.4 million farmers in 29 countries grew biotech crops with over 90 per cent being small resourced small farmers in developing countries.

For future prospects, the report said it looked encouraging for the next five years, with drought tolerant maize in 2012; golden rice in 2013 and Bt rice before the Millennium Development Goals of 2015 to potentially benefit one billion poor people rice households.

“Biotech crops can make an enormous contribution to the 2015 MDG goal of cutting poverty in half by optimising crop productivity in proposed global initiative,” the report said.

Dr Yaa Difie, a Lecturer at the Bio-Chemistry Department of University of Ghana, Legon said the use of Genetically Modified Organisms had created the most concern and led to the development of various international protocols to which Ghana was a signatory and the development of the biosafety legislation at country level.

She reiterated the need to have Ghana’s Biosafety bill passed into law to enable the country commercialise what would proceed from the confined field trials.

Source: GNA

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