LUSAKA, Zambia, 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 resolve.
"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 city
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 on biotechnology.
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 quality control.
"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
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," he said.
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.
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,"
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 concerns.
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
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.
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