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[NAIROBI] In efforts to harmonise national biosafety regulations across Africa, the links between national regulatory authorities and key stakeholders must be strengthened, say experts at the African Biosafety Network of Expertise (ABNE).

Many of the continent's science and agriculture ministers endorsed the use of biotechnology to address poverty and food insecurity at an annual dialogue held last month (18-19 April) in Accra, Ghana.

But biosafety regulations in many of those countries still need to be established.

"Countries should learn from one another to avoid reinventing the wheel," said Samuel Timpo, senior programme officer at ABNE, which is run by the African Union's New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD).

He was speaking to SciDev.Netafter a week-long study tour for Africa's regulators and researchers in Pretoria, South Africa this month, organised by ABNE and AfricaBio, a non-profit biotechnology safety organisation based in South Africa.

Timpo said the tour aimed to expose African regulators to good practice and help them learn from one another.

It included workshop sessions on applying agricultural biotechnology, and biosafety and biotechnology regulation in South Africa, as well as field and laboratory tours for biosafety regulators from Burkina Faso, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

The initiative by ABNE has received support from across the region, with some regulatory agencies and regional trading blocs saying a stronger and functional biosafety system could be an important guide to exploiting the potential benefits of biotechnology and ensuring safe use of genetically modified crops in Africa.

Miriam Kinyua, chairperson for Kenya's National Biosafety Authority and professor of biotechnology at Moi University, told SciDev.Net it was prudent to work with all stakeholders to take into account their biosafety concerns.

"Developers should not fear that their products are being curtailed. We want to work and engage in dialogue with them to ensure that their technology is safe," she said.

"We are also working closely with policymakers," added Kinyua.  

Chungu Mwila, acting chief executive officer for the Alliance for Commodity Trade in Eastern and Southern Africa, said: "It is vital that regulatory institutions inform stakeholders on the regulations and status of technology".

He told SciDev.Net that appropriate regulations and a strong institutional structure to apply them is "a must" if African countries are to create an environment in which biotechnology can thrive.