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Addis Ababa, Tuesday March 7, 2017: Media coverage of the debate on biotechnology has contributed to confusion and indecisiveness in policy making on biosafety in the African region.

According to the COMESA Biotechnology and Biosafety Policy Advisor Dr Getachew Belay, messages on biotechnology processes and genetically modified foods reaching policy makers and consumers are "confusing, sensational and inaccurate".

Dr Belay was addressing journalists from COMESA member States attending a Communication Training Workshop for Media Practitioners on Biotechnology and Biosafety in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 7-9 March 2017. The State Minister, Ministry of Environment and Forest Ethiopia HE Kare Chawicha opened the workshop.

Dr Belay observed that in Africa, issues on biotechnology and biosafety that influence technology adoption are regularly misrepresented due to lack of proper communication with the media and packaging of the right message.

“Lack of improved communication within the member states has contributed to lagging behind on the adoption of agricultural biotechnology, among other things lack of national biosafety laws and biotechnology policies, low investment in biotechnology research and development,” Dr Belay told the journalists.

Cognizant of the polarized debate about Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and in order to enhance the communicatio, COMESA has come up with Biotechnology Implementation Plan (COMBIP) Programme which highlights the existence of biosafety systems and policies within the member states. It further seeks to strengthen public awareness and communication of biotechnology and biosafety.

As part of its implementation, COMESA through its specialized agency, the Alliance for Commodity Trade in Eastern and Southern Africa (ACTESA) has undertaken to train the media practitioners in the region to enhance fact-based reporting on agri-biotech and biosfatey in the region and support the progress in national efforts towards commercialization of biotech crops, mainly Bt cotton.

“As a regional body we would like to see the media conversant with scientific information and ask the right questions to both sides of the aisle, to convey a balanced message to policy makers and the public at large” Dr Belay said. “The training is very significant because it will dispel fears and improve media coverage of biotechnology and biosafety in COMESA member states.

The training is expectd to acquaint journalists with crop biotechnology basics in the context of sustainable agriculture, biosafety, food security and trade. Journalists will be taken through a series of presentation on safety of GMO’s and feed. They will also have practical sessions to allay fears and establish the myths and concerns on GMOs.

In his remarks, Minister, Chawicha described the media as the bridge to reach out to the public and which should assist the communication officers from public authorities and research institutions to convey the correct messages.

Thirty journalists drawn from Ethiopia, Egypt, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Sudan who have demonstrated interest in agri-biotechnology and biosafety reporting are participating in the training.

The training was organized by COMESA-ACTESA in partnership with the Ministry of Environment and Forest, of Ethiopia, International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA AfriCenter) in Kenya, and the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology, Ethiopia Chapter to train the media in biotechnology and biosafety communication.

The second leg of the training will be targeted at journalists in southern region and is scheduled for May 2017 in Lilongwe, Malawi .