COMESA member states through its specialized agency ACTESA – Alliance for Commodity Trade in Eastern and Southern Africa have acknowledged the need for rigorous reforms on policies governing adoption of GM crops in Africa. This was during a two-day regional sensitization workshop on agri-biotech and biosafety held on 30th August 2017 in Kenya. The workshop brought together representatives from six COMESA member states actively involved in biotech research, the East African Community (EAC) and key private sector players.

Hon Christophe Bazivamo, the Deputy Secretary General of the East African Community in charge of Productive and Social Sectors emphasized the need to prioritize food security wholesomely by incorporating all available tools along the value chain to achieve a stable economic environment in the region. “Some countries have chosen to be silent on agricultural biotechnology but that is not the right way to go about it because GM products are already in the market,” he said. Hon Bazivamo indicated the EAC has not taken an official position on GM crops but discussions are underway, “It would be worthwhile for the region to develop a policy that includes the vibrant business community who would ensure food sufficiency and surplus for the market” he added.

According to Hon. Adam Malima, Vice Chair of East Africa Biotechnology and Biosafety Alliance (EABBA), regional agricultural policies are heavily influenced by attitudes and stringent rules exported from the EU that has close trade ties with Africa for their benefit. “We need to be guided by what is most important to us while identifying African solutions to African problems,” he said. Hon. Malima informed the business community representatives that EU leads in application of GM technology in medicine and not agriculture because food security is not a problem in that part of the world.  “EU utilizes genetic engineering to make insulin affordable, with a projected global market worth of  over USD 40 billion by 2020. Rejecting the same application in agriculture in countries where food is scarce is a contradiction.” Hon. Malima urged scientists to continuously engage the business community and show them how science, technology and innovation can improve the quality of their products for competitive trade.  The European Union reaps big from global biotech/GM trade and imports about 34 million tonnes of GM grain annually.

Dr. Getachew Belay, COMESA’s Senior Biotechnology and Biosafety Advisor, maintained that the prevailing arguments surrounding application of GM technology in Africa will never go away until all stakeholders come together and establish a common ground for regional benefits. “It is imperative that we move from relating the potential of GM crops to food security only, but also link it to surplus production for trade and job creation,” he said. Dr. Karembu reiterated the need for consensus within the agri-biotech fraternity and urged experts entrusted with providing technical information to communicate effectively and harmonize their messages in order to reduce confusion among different actors.

The workshop, organized by ISAAA AfriCenter under the OFAB program in partnership with COMESA/ACTESA, also provided participants with an opportunity to visit the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) insect resistant/drought tolerant (Bt-DT) maize field trials at the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO), as well as the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture’s AflaSafe partnership plant addressing the aflatoxin menace.