LOCAL seeds experts are optimistic about government move to allow field trials of genetically engineered maize which has already proved successful in confined laboratory trials at Makutupora in Dodoma region.
Mikocheni Agriculture Research Institute (MARI) Principal Research Officer, Dr Alois Kullaya told the 'Sunday News' during the week that although it has taken many years to change regulations barring field trials of GM maize, progress is being made to that effect. He hoped that implementation of the plan may come true before end of this year.
"I hope a decision will be made soon, probably this year, I am very optimistic," said Dr Kullaya. MARI has undertaken confined laboratory trials for GM maize in a pilot project which ended in 2009 but strict regulations have stopped field trials of the same.
According to the country's Biosafety Regulations of 2009 set out, it applies a strict liability principle which essentially holds anyone associated with importing, transporting, selling or using a GM product liable for any perceived harm associated with it.
Scientists argue that the "guilty until proven innocent" approach is detrimental to the technology which is already being used by over 17 million farmers globally.
Dr Kullaya warned that while other east African countries like Kenya and Uganda have adopted a different, fault-based regulatory approach where harm and negligence must be proved, Tanzania risks losing out as commercial approved in the two countries will have a negative impact in the country.
"Kenya and Uganda are doing field trials and soon they will authorize commercial production which will also affect us as we cannot stop GM crops from crossing our border," Dr Kullaya who is also Coordinator for Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) initiative noted.
But anti-GMO activists are pressing the government to stay the course and ensure that the country remains a GM free territory for fear of the unknown.
Tanzania Alliance for Biodiversity Coordinator, Abdallah Mkinde said, "The stringent law should continue to exist so that whoever introduces GM crops should be responsible for whatever happens on the ground." He said TAB and its 18 member non-governmental organizations is doing a sensitization campaign to the public to warn farmers and consumers about the dangers of growing and eating genetically engineered organism.
TAB is planning a major sensitization meeting with lawmakers to inform them of the negative effects of GM technology and prepare them to shoot down any government bill seeking to amend the 2004 National Environmental Management Act.
The TAB Coordinator said recent research by French scientists which has linked GM foods with cancer is a wakeup call to the government to maintain its strict position on the crops which are also linked with negative impact on the environment.
But with the country facing a rapidly increasing population and climate change affecting food production, the decision to allow drought and disease resistant maize and other staples looks imminent.
Minister for Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives, Engineer Christopher Chiza has already announced that five regions are facing food shortages because of inadequate rains and disease attacks on maize and bananas.