[NAIROBI] Researchers and policymakers met in Kenya this week to discuss ways that biotechnology could contribute to the continent's development.
The meeting held on 25-28 July was the 4th gathering of the High-Level Panel on Biotechnology, set up by the African Union and the New Partnership for Africa's Development to provide policy advice to African leaders.
The panel discussed a draft report, which it plans to refine and submit to the annual summit of African heads of state in January 2007. It has requested comments on the report from researchers, policymakers and the general public.
The report identifies ways of building the continent's capacity to use biotechnology to improve health, agriculture and industry, and urges African countries and regions to collaborate on biotechnology research.
The panel's co-chair, Calestous Juma of Harvard University, United States, said that people who say biotechnology is being forced on Africa have a limited view of what it is taking place and are only considering genetically modified (GM) organisms.
He pointed out that serious research in various aspects of biotechnology was already underway in African countries including Egypt, Kenya and South Africa.
Panel member Tewolde Egziabher, the director-general of Ethiopia's Environmental Protection Authority, said that biosafety issues relating to genetic modification are a small but vital component of biotechnology as a whole.
He said some industrialised countries are trying to force GM products onto African countries that have no regulatory frameworks or laws in place to mitigate adverse effects that these products could generate.
He said such countries are undermining the Cartagena Protocol, an international instrument intended to protect biodiversity from potential harm posed by GM organisms (see The Cartagena Protocol: the debate goes on).
Juma, however, is less worried about biosafety. "As far as I am concerned GM products are as safe as conventional ones, and both have risks," he said.
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