Sifelani Tsiko-Agric-Environment & lnnovations Editor
Zimbabwe’s decision to adopt or not adopt genetically modified organisms (GMOs) will be based on scientifically proven knowledge and evidence, a senior Government official says.
Professor Fanuel Tagwira, permanent secretary for the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development told participants on Friday at a GMOs awareness workshop for policy makers that the scarcity and contradictory nature of the scientific evidence to date has forced the country to take a cautionary approach.
“Any decisions to be made regarding GMO technology must be based on scientific knowledge derived from research and trials conducted,” he said.
“ln this light, the National Biotechnology Authority regulates GM crop field trials, by conducting risk assessments and monitoring the trials as they are conducted.”
The country has agreed to allow researchers to conduct trials for GM cotton which is resistant to bollworms.
“lt is our hope that the results and data collected from these research trials will put Zimbabwe is a position whereby we can make a science-based decision on the adoption or commercialisation of GMO in cotton,” said Prof Tagwira.
“Whether Zimbabwe adopts GMOs or not, there is an urgent need for raising awareness and education on the concepts of biotechnology and GMOs.”
The National Biotechnology Authority organised the workshop to raise awareness among policy makers about the potential of new and emerging technologies and innovations, their risks, biosafety issues and how they could be harnessed for the country’s development.
Zimbabwe has taken a precautionary approach towards risk regulation of GMO products and technologies as reflected and reinforced by the adoption of the National Biotechnology Authority Act of 2006.
For decades, the safety of GMOs has been a hotly controversial topic that has been debated around the world.
Biotechnology is the use of living organisms to produce a product or service which is beneficial.
Dr Silas Obukosia, of the African Biosafety Network of Expertise (ABNE) said Africa must embrace new and emerging technologies to feed its rapidly growing population.
“Zimbabwe was the first country in Africa to establish a degree in biotechnology in 1992,” he said.
“Africa must lead the science to harness the technology to feed its rapidly growing population. The war in Ukraine, Covid 19 pandemic and climate change has shown the risk of relying on other countries for food security.
“We must use all tools – conventional and biotechnology to enhance our food security.”
Dr Woldeyesus Sinebo of the ABNE also warned that farmers could still access GMO seeds even if countries maintained a ban on GMOs.
Dr Chenjerai Kashangura said it was important to embrace GMO technologies, but with local scientists driving the agenda.
Zimbabwe has legislative instruments in place to allow the processing of applications for research up to the open quarantine or confined field trial level.
The country still maintains a ban on the commercial release of GM crops due to health and environmental safety concerns.
However, in areas where adequate biosecurity measures have been taken, the country is moving to harness the benefits that come with biotechnology applications in key sectors that include agriculture, food, health and the environment.
The Government still fears GMO crops will contaminate local crop hybrids leading to heavy reliance on foreign GMO seed multinationals.
Seed security and the need to reduce reliance on foreign technologies remains key for the Government.