African regulators say the continent has the appropriate legal regime to oversee the safe use of GMOs

Joseph Opoku Gakpo

February 9, 2023

Biosafety regulators from Africa told the United Nations (UN)
Biodiversity Conference in Montreal, Canada in December 2022 that
African countries have the appropriate legal regime to regulate the safe
application of genetically modified organism (GMO) technology to
agricultural production.

Regulators from Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, and Sudan said their countries
have established appropriate regulatory systems that ensure that
consumers benefit from GMOs.

They were speaking at a side event organized by an academia
consortium led by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-
biotech Applications (ISAAA), at the UN Biodiversity Conference.
The 15th meeting of the Conference of Parties to the UN Biodiversity
Convention deliberated on a new framework for the protection of
biodiversity (Post-2020 Global Diversity Forum), including the role
biotechnology (GMOs) can play in helping protect the planet.

Protect biological diversity

Dr Naazik Ahmed, the director of the Sudan Biosafety Department at the
Higher Council of Environment and Natural Resources, said her country
has had laws to govern the approval of GM crops since 2005, following
the ratification of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety.
The protocol, a supplement to the UN Convention on Biological
Diversity, seeks to protect biological diversity from the potential risks
posed by GMOs. About 173 countries have so far ratified it.
Dr. Ahmed said following the ratification of the Cartagena Protocol,
Sudan approved a framework for a national biosafety law. It then set up

a National Council for Biosafety and subsequently approved its first GM
crop, Bt cotton.

“The government adopted Bt cotton after a long process of risk
assessment and consultation with communities,” she said. “All farmers
in Sudan have now adopted GM cotton because it is better than
conventional cotton and they have said they will not grow other varieties

Monitoring and evaluation mechanisms

Dr Ahmed added that approval processes for other GM crops are
ongoing and efforts are being made to set up appropriate monitoring and
evaluation mechanisms.

Dr. Roy Mugiira of Kenya’s National Biosafety Authority also said
Kenya was among the first countries to ratify the Cartagena Protocol.
“Following that, we developed the National Biotech Development
Policy. It was a policy document for a framework on how the country
will interact with this new technology,” he said.

Kenya subsequently approved a National Biosafety Act in 2009 and
established a National Biosafety Authority. In 2011 and 2012, Kenya
published regulations to govern the conduct of business in contained use,
research, trials, environmental release, export, import, transit, and
labeling of GMOs.

“In 2019, we approved genetically modified Bt cotton for cultivation.
We have also approved Bt maize which farmers will have in the next
cropping cycle in March. We are happy that we are progressing well,”
Dr. Mugiira added.

Lilian Chimphepo, who is the Biosafety Registrar at the Ministry of
Natural Resources and Climate Change in Malawi, also said Malawi
ratified the Cartagena Protocol in 2009.

“We developed our Biosafety Act in 2002 and biosafety regulations in
2007. And then the National Biotech and Regulation Policy in 2008.
There was a time we had a food crisis and we received a donation of GM
maize,” she said.

“But we didn’t have any legal framework so we came up with one to
enable us to manage GMO-related matters. We have so far approved
GM cotton for commercialization. In 2019 and 2020, farmers grew Bt
cotton. Aside from Bt cotton, we have had confined field trials for Bt
cowpea and transgenic GM bananas.”

Committed delegates

Mr. Eric Okoree of Ghana’s National Biosafety Authority also said his
country ratified the Cartagena Protocol in 2003. In 2011, the National
Biosafety Act was approved to govern the application of GMOs to crop

Ghana has since approved its first GM crop, the GM cowpea. “Ghana
wasn’t slow in approving GMOs. We were very purposeful,” he said,
adding that African countries which attended the UN Biodiversity
Conference wanted to negotiate for what the continent needed and not what is
dictated to it.”

“Africa is organized and prepared. We know what we came here for. We
have committed delegates who can argue on any platform about GMOs,”
he said.