7 January 2014

Tanzania: Local GMOs Research Still On

RESEARCHERS are still working on Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) in laboratories pending ongoing talks for possible field trials, the Permanent Secretary (PS) in the Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives, Ms Sophia Kaduma, has said.

Ms Kaduma, who was elaborating on the status of GMO research in Dar es Salaam, said that talks were being held between the ministry and the Vice-President's Office over the possible review of the current rules that bar field trial of GMOs.

"We in the ministry have not stopped researching on the GMOs. However, our researchers are doing it in the laboratories pending possibilities of field trials if at all we will get the current rules reviewed," she said.

GMOs have been the subject of endless debate in the country with environmentalists claiming that its development would affect environment and lead to possible loss of indigenous seeds.

Recent reports had it that the government ruled out a review and repeal of a legal clause that holds everyone liable to punitive sanction from developers, financiers and other partners, down to the last sales outlet, should anything go wrong in the development and utilisation of agricultural biotechnology.

However, Ms Mduma showed optimism over the possible consensus in the future especially when the environmentalists are satisfied with the sustainability of nature.

The Director of Environment in the Vice-President's Office, Dr Julius Ningu, was recently quoted saying that the government has given a go-ahead to scientists to continue with research into the safety of biotechnology before any further step is taken.

"We want local researchers to do research into safety of the crops. So, if researchers do those trials, then we are sure of their safety.

The researchers can do their research and determine that safety," he said. He explained that as a government, they have met and decided that researchers in public institutions, including the Commission for Science and Technology, among others, were their employees and hence they were accountable for any research finding they make.

According to him, the Attorney General has said that the clause should not be removed. The Principal Research Officer of the Mikocheni Agriculture Research Institute (MARI), Dr Alois Kullaya, said there were still fears among local scientists regarding the existing legal framework, as to whether they can take on the task into biotech or not.

Dr Kullaya, who is also Coordinator for Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) initiative, noted that local scientists say that the 'strict liability clause' in the country's regulatory framework "is so prohibitive that even Tanzanian experiments involving regional biotech programmes have had to be done on foreign soil."

Tanzania is currently implementing a regional collaborative project known as Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA), aimed at developing drought-resistant maize varieties along with Kenya and Uganda in East Africa, as well as Mozambique and South Africa within the SADC region.

But further progress beyond 'mock trials' at an experimental farm at Makutopora in Dodoma has been held back pending current consultations that could pave the way for the partners, Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation, the Nairobi-based African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) and others, to proceed to the next steps that could lead to Tanzania's first commercial GM maize, possibly by 2017 as earlier envisaged.

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