Things are looking up for a robust biotechnology and biosafety landscape in Senegal thanks to a revised biosafety law that is awaiting approval. The draft legislation is currently being tabled at the Cabinet level before a final approval by the National Assembly. It takes into account all the provisions of the additional protocol as well as the concerns of all stakeholders.

Senegal’s biosafety development has had a relatively swift progress. The country participated in the process that led to the signing of the Cartagena Protocol and subsequently ratified the protocol in 2003. Immediately, it began to develop tools to transpose the protocol’s devices into the national legal arsenal. Thus, the Biosafety Act (2009-27) was passed in 2009. In the same year, two decrees were issued, one relating to the National Biosafety Authority (NBA), and the other relating to the National Biosafety Committee (NBC). A decree on compensation for members of that committee ensued.

In 2017, a new decree (2017-2053) of May 19, 2017 encases the NBA with legal personality and financial autonomy. At the same time, it creates a new advisory body – the Scientific and Technical Committee of Biosafety – which is an offshoot of the NBC whose role is now limited to studying the social, economic and cultural aspects, the guidance board with a President and members in areas directly affected by modern biotechnology and biosafety.

Senegal’s biosafety legislation process, however, has not been without challenges. The development of all the implementing texts of the 2009-17 law, and the appropriation of this biosafety framework by the various actors were marred by a couple of challenges. Additionally, its enforcement has rather been prohibitive because of the country’s consideration of the precautionary principle.

Today, most of these challenges are met or are in the process of being met through the various actions carried out by NBA in the field of communication, information, training and awareness, and through the revision of the 2009-27 law.

But what is Senegal’s position on approval, research and development of GM crops? The country, through the 2009-27 law, had opted for the precautionary principle, but in view of the new advances in biotechnology, both from a scientific point of view and from the point of view of their expansion, it now advocates a wider opening to biotechnology to take advantage of their benefits, while overseeing biotechnology and biosafety efforts.

In June this year, the African Biosafety Network of Expertise (ABNE) in partnership with NBA, held a technical workshop on the development of biosafety regulatory tools in Senegal. This provided an opportunity for regulators and scientists to explore the place of GM crops in modern Senegal. Research scientists advised that there is a need to cultivate GMOs in the country, especially to fight against aflatoxin, pests and malaria.

For African countries to reap big from their biosafety systems, fully established and functional biosafety regulatory frameworks are mandatory. This will effectively happen under a good political will, which is the foundation of biosafety success. In Senegal, biosafety has made a significant leap thanks to strong support from His Excellency President Macky Sall.

Agricultural stakeholders and scientists have been working round the clock to look for sustainable solution to food insecurity in Africa, a problem aggravated by climate change. In view of this, regulators play a critical role allowing the introduction of GMO crops that help to control soil salinization, pests, and allow increased yields and acreage, and that which pose no risks to humans, animals and the environment.

Ousseynou Kassé is the Director of Senegal’s National Biosafety Authority (ANB). He is a biotechnology specialist.