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African Position on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in Agriculture
Submitted by Wynand J van der Walt, FoodNCropBio, Pretoria.
27 November 2006
Wynand J van der Walt

Acknowledgements: Source: African Union document from Conference of Agricultural Ministers, Libreville, Gabon, 27 November - 1 December, 2006


Africa has accepted that the advent of genetic modification (GM) has changed the nature and debate on response to food insecurity. However, polarized positions have created confusion and delayed evaluation and adoption of GM technologies in agricultural production. In 2006 the African Union resolved to take a common position on modern biotechnology in terms of its Decision EX.CL/Dec.26 (III), acknowledging that biotechnology can help farmers to increase production.

The scope of the position should take into account that most African farmers are smallholders, that it should solve African problems and focus on African crops, that it should build upon local knowledge, conserve indigenous genetic resources, consider comparative advantage, and allocate adequate resources to the process. An African panel of experts on biotechnology was established to render advice. The African Union Commission drafted a strategy on biosafety with the objective of providing a framework, to guide coordination and harmonization, and to enhance capacity.

The major African regions developed guidelines and policies to move the process forward.
  • SADC established an advisory committee in 2003 to focus on handling of food aid, policies and regulations, capacity building, and public awareness. However, this committee seems to have been dormant for the past several years.
  • COMESA ministers of Agriculture in 2002 agreed to create a regional policy on GMOs, formed a technical support group in 2003, and drafted a regional policy on biotech and biosafety. Focal points are commercial planting of GM crops, commercial trade policies, and food aid policy.
  • West African states under ECOWAS arranged a conference in June 2004 with a follow-up later in 2004 and a ministerial conference that made the following recommendations: development and use of biotechnologies, a regional approach on biosafety, a communication and policy strategy, and institutionalizing a ministerial conference on biotech.
  • The East African Community (EAC) had a meeting of ministers in 2004 that resulted in a call for technical guidance. This received attention in a regional meeting in 2006 that recommended policy harmonization, research and development, and a regional regulatory approach.
The AU policy guidelines attempt to guide member states in establishing public awareness, biosafety strategy, harmonization, participation in international negotiations, and stakeholder collaboration.

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