11 March 2014

Tanzania: Agro-Research in Dar Get Significant Boost

Photo: Mauricio Ramos/IPS
Activists oppose use of genetic engineering in Tanzania.

AGRICULTURE research institutes in the country will undergo a major facelift thanks to Commission for Science and Technology's 50bn/- budget.

Costech Director General, Dr Hassan Mshinda said in Dar es Salaam last Friday that so far he has disbursed 30bn/- to the zonal agriculture research institutes located in Arusha, Mbeya, Mtwara, Dar es Salaam, Mwanza and Kagera.

"We want these research institutes to develop capacity to undertake their work efficiently to meet growing demand of farmers for good seeds," Dr Mshinda said while briefing journalists on progress made towards improving the research institutes most of them are in a dilapidated state.

He said the research institutes have been invited to present their proposal as per their priorities for funding and Mwanza based Ukiriguru Agriculture Research Institute has chosen to start with a water project.

"Water is very important in research and as such we gave them over 100m/- to address the problem first before we move to renovate their biotechnology laboratory," he pointed out.

Arguing that no country can succeed economically without investing in science and technology, the Costech Director General emphasized the need for the government to get rid of regulation which has stopped local scientists from undertaking field trials for genetically engineered organisms.

"This strict liability clause was included then because of the fear of the technology and that people feared foreigners coming to do this in our country," he argued saying currently local scientists like Dr Joseph Ndunguru of Mikocheni Agriculture Research Institute (MARI) and his team are developing GMO locally.

Dr Ndunguru has in the past ten years or so collected different varieties of local cassava and implanted a disease resistant gene from other wild plants which withstand Cassava Mosaic and Brown Streak diseases.

"But this strict liability regulation is stopping local scientists like Dr Ndunguru from practicing their trade for fear of litigation," he argued saying instead of strict liability the regulation should be fault based.

Dismissing European based activists organizations which are behind the campaign targeting African governments' Dr Mshinda said they are simply defending their trade interests as many imported agro-chemicals manufactured in Europe.

Costech Director of Research Nicolas Nyange wondered why European activists are against African countries cultivating and eating GMOs while accepting drugs such as insulin to treat diabetes which has elements of genetic engineering.

"Genetic engineering will mean that farmers will use less and less chemicals to control diseases and pests which will hurt some chemical manufacturers," Dr Nyange noted saying while Kenya and Uganda are nearing to allow cultivation of genetically engineered crops, Tanzania is yet to start field trials.

Anti-GMO activists and some European governments are strongly opposed to the technology for health and environmental concerns as it involves implanting a gene from one plant or animal into another.

Activists also fear that embracing GMOs will make poor farmers vulnerable to manipulation by powerful Western companies which own the technology.

Six biggest global genetic engineering patents owners include United States based Monsanto based Missouri and has the largest market share in the world, Pioneer Hi-Bred International which is based in Iowa and is a subsidiary of Du- Pont, Dow Agrosciences based in Indiana and is subsidiary of Dow Chemical, Swiss based Syngenta AG and German based BASF of Ludwigshafen and Bayer Cropscience of Monheim which is a subsidiary of Bayer.

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