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[LUSAKA] Zambia has begun building a modern molecular biology laboratory to detect genetically modified (GM) organisms entering the country.

The National Institute for Scientific and Industrial Research (NISIR) began the project last month. It is expected to finish by December.  The Norwegian government has donated US$330,000 for buying equipment and training scientists.

Despite Zambia experiencing its third severe drought since 2000, the government is sticking to its decision to ban GM food imports (see As drought takes hold, Zambia's door stays shut to GM).

Michelle Nganga, head of research and development at NISIR told Times of Zambia last week (6 May) the new laboratory is being built to safeguard Zambians' health and maintain a sustainable environment.

In 2003 the Zambian government launched a five-year strategy for national biosafety and biotechnology. As part of this, the Zambian government drafted biosafety legislation to increase its technological infrastructure to 'protect' people from consuming GM food.

Director of NISIR, Mwananyanda Lewanika, told SciDev.Net that the new laboratory would be responsible for identifying GM organisms, since the virology laboratory at the University Teaching Hospital (UTH) has no molecular biology facility. 

The goal is to have the new facility accredited as a regional and national referral laboratory that will provide research and training in collaboration with the University of Zambia and the Norwegian Institute of Gene Ecology. The University of Zambia will arrange for student placements in GM research, while the Norwegian Institute of Gene ecology will use scientist exchange programmes to help in training and research.

Read more about GM crops in SciDev.Net's GM crops dossier.