The Herald (Harare)

23 September 2004

Zimbabwe: Delegates Underscore Need for Uniform Policies

Harare — DELEGATES at the just ended African Session of the African Policy Dialogues on Biotechnology have stressed the need for the continent to come up with a consensus on the issue of biotechnology and biosafety to ensure the introduction of uniform policies.

The challenges posed by modern technology range from ethical concerns emerging from the use of the technology to manipulate and transform nature, to concerns about potential human health, environmental and socio-economic risks.

"Delegates have said it is imperative that the African countries assess their capacity to carry out their own research in order to know the risks and benefits before embracing biotechnology.

"There is need for capacity building so that the countries do not lose out on technological advancement," said Dr Joseph Mugabe the Executive Secretary of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (Nepad) Science and Technology Forum.

He said African governments needed to increase budget allocations for research and development in the field of sciences so as to enable the continent to move with the times and embrace technological development from an informed point of view.

"Increasing uncertainty and confusion in many of the African governments' responses to a wide range of social, ethical, environmental, trade and economic issues associated with the development and application of modern biotechnology is worrying and hence the need for a common ground," said Dr Mugabe.

Recognising the polarisation in biotechnology decision-making processes in Africa and even among scientists, Nepad and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), in collaboration with Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FARNPAN) have established a regional platform through which countries can engage in dialogue and develop a consensus on the controversies on the Dr Mugabe said delegates have noted the existence of two extreme positions that polarise the continent.

"Pro-biotechnology groups catalogue potential benefits of the technology and often dismiss any concerns about potential risks associated with the it, whilst, anti-biotechnology groups see no evident benefits of and associate the technology with nothing but danger and risks'.

The deliberations done at the meeting will be fed into the African Union high level panel of experts for consideration so that common ground can be achieved.

Considerations for and modalities of a protocol setting out appropriate procedures, and advanced informed agreements in the field of safe handling and use of any modified organism will be discussed and resolutions passed at the African Policy Dialogue meetings pencilled for West, East and North Africa in the next seven months.

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