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Entebbe, Uganda, Friday, July 21, 2017: The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) is the only regional economic community in Africa that has adopted a biotechnology and biosafety policy.

The policy was adopted in 2014 followed by an implementation plan whose strategic objective is to strengthen awareness and communication on biotechnology and biosafety.

This was disclosed during the 2nd Agri-Biotechnology and Biosafety Communications (ABBC) 2017 Africa stakeholders Symposium in Entebbe. The three days’ event, 18 – 20 July 2017, brought together over 80 scientists, legislators, media practitioners, communications officers, government officials and academia.

Dr Getachew Belay, Senior Biotechnology Adviser at the COMESA Alliance for Commodity Trade in Eastern and Southern Africa (ACTESA) said polarized debate about Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) has led to confusion and indecisiveness in policy making.

“As a regional body, we would like to see communication practitioners in the region conversant and able to ask or answer questions to both sides of the aisle, and convey a balanced message to policy makers and the public at large,” he said.

Held under the theme: ‘Strengthening communication for improved biosafety management’, the meeting acknowledged that the level of conversation on biotech in Africa needs to advance given that two decades have passed since the introduction of GM-crop varieties.

“Most ordinary people do not understand the benefits or advantage of using biotechnology to produce food,” Uganda’s Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation Dr. Elioda Tumwesgye said at the opening of the symposium.

“We need to explain to the layman so that we are on the same page. This technology is important because it can bring about the much-needed food security on the continent,”

He called on media practitioners to report more on biotechnology and on scientists to simplify their language.

The ABBC is a platform for scientists and the media to actively exchange experiences and best practices towards improving agri-biotech and biosafety communication and coverage in Africa.

Dr Belay observed that there could be several reasons not to adopt the GM-technology or its products, but it should be for the correct reasons.

“At this stage, it will be good for countries to learn from empirical experiences of others,” he said. He cited Sudan as leading in cotton growing using biotechnology in Africa with India and China taking the global lead.

He informed the participants that Uganda, Kenya, and Egypt played a big role during the policy formulation and development of the COMESA biotechnology implementation plan. He therefore urged them to equally take the lead in adopting biotechnology through science-based, informed and practical policy decisions.   

The symposium was organized by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) with support from the Uganda National Council for Science and Technology (UNCST), NEPAD, COMESA, SCIFODE and the Ministry of agriculture among other partners.

Participants were drawn from 17 African countries and joined by experts in biotechnology and communication from Belgium, Brazil, Malaysia and the United States of America.

Uganda’s State Minister for Agriculture Honourable Christopher Chibanzanga closed the symposium on Thursday 20 July 2017.