October 10, 2003 (ENS): Zambian Agriculture
and Cooperatives Minister Mundia Sikatana warns that
genetically modified organisms (GMOs) present serious
environmental and agricultural problems that African
leaders would find difficult, if not impossible, to
"We need to adequately and comprehensively address
the issue of GMOs. We would not like to create problems
that we are unable to solve," the minister said
September 20 at the opening of a two week long regional
Seed Technology Course given by the Southern African
Development Community (SADC) in Zambia’s capital
The minister’s comments come shortly before the
deadline given to the 14 SADC member countries to prepare
a common regional position and harmonize their legislation
The SADC Secretariat has set 2004 as the deadline for
a regional position on biotechnology. This position
is being developed, taking into account the Cartagena
Protocol on Biosafety to the UN Convention on Biological
Diversity (CBD) and the African Union Biosafety Model
Legislation, which is now in force.
SADC member countries include Angola, Botswana, Democratic
Republic of Congo (DRC), Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius,
Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Swaziland,
Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The Zambian minister said that with the ongoing transformation
of the seed industry in the region, seed experts must
be mindful of the new concepts such as plant breeders’
rights, on-farm seed multiplication, and licensed seed
"These control systems never existed but have
now emerged in the seed industry. Among these, we must
not forget the issue of GMOs," Sikatana said.
He said that Zambia, having rejected transgenic food
aid shipments from the United States last year, is one
country in the region that is being cautious about the
use of GMOs, so the country has adopted a biosafety
and biotechnology policy.
"We are now developing legislation to implement
the policy. Our target is to have an Act before the
end of the year," Sikatana said.
He noted that the differences in seed legislation among
the 14 countries in the SADC regional group have resulted
in many difficulties in cross-border seed trade.
The minister commended the efforts of the nonprofit
SADC Seed Security Network (SSSN), to harmonize seed
legislation in the region. He said regional seed experts
have the task of ensuring that the farming community
is supplied with appropriate seeds, as seed is the carrier
of agricultural technology.
Sikatana said that other inputs such as fertilizers
and pesticides are merely meant to exploit the potential
that is contained in seed. "We can never have agricultural
production without seed. It is a prerequisite input,"
he told seed course participants.
For the past several years, the SADC region has been
faced with a serious food crisis, with an estimated
6.5 million vulnerable people in Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique,
Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe now at risk of starvation.
Sikatana challenged agricultural experts to find ways
of resolving the many food problems facing the Sub-Saharan
African countries. "We have challenges ranging
from changing weather patterns to increasing populations,"
In meeting these challenges, the minister said, it is
important that seed experts strive to hard to ensure
solutions to increased food production in the region
are found. He expressed concern that despite its vast
agricultural lands, the region still continues to suffer
Food shortages in 2003 have been caused by prolonged
dry spells in parts of southern and western Zambia,
which have reduced grain yields. In some areas, this
is the second, or even third, successive year of poor
harvests. Despite this, the overall harvest is 49 percent
up on last year, according to an analysis by the UN
World Food Program.
Though agriculture contributes 34 percent of the region’s
Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the industry has not greatly
contributed to the absorption of the labor force and
to the provision of raw materials to industries. "We
can do better than this," said Sikatana.
The GMO issue is now under the direction of the SADC
Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and Biosafety authorized
in October 2002 by the SADC Council of Ministers at
a meeting held in Luanda, Angola. The committee is tasked
with developing guidelines to safeguard SADC member
countries against potential risks in the areas of food
safety, contamination of genetic resources, and consumer
A report of the inaugural meeting of the SADC Advisory
Committee on Biotechnology and Biosafety held in Gaborone,
Botswana in April indicates that currently, SADC as
region has no harmonized position on biotechnology and
the handling of genetically modified organisms.
“As a result, there are operational problems
in handling issues of GMOs including the movement of
food items. These problems arise mainly because of environmental
concerns associated with the movement of GMOs,”
the committee stated in its report.
While acknowledging the potential of genetic engineering
to revolutionize agriculture, health and the environment,
SADC Executive Secretary Dr. Prega Ramsamy said SADC
is "convinced that, like any other technology,
biotechnology offers both potential and risks for the
Zambia, which has neither signed nor ratified the Cartagena
Protocol, rejected a donation of transgenic food aid
from the United States in August 2002 after a protracted
national debate over safety of the food, citing uncertainties
over its impact on human health and the environment.
At that point, SADC issued ad hoc guidelines to prevent
potential risks from poor handling of genetically modified
maize, especially the likely contamination of the existing
germplasm. The guidelines include the need for campaigns
to make farmers aware that GMO maize should not be planted
and that the genetically modified maize should be milled
before distribution so it cannot be used as seed.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2003. All Rights