GM policy change will depend on local evidence, says Tanzania minister

Hon Mwigulu, Agriculture Minister

Hon Mwigulu, Agriculture Minister

The Government of Tanzania will review the biosafety regulations to allow for commercial release of GM crops based on locally produced scientific evidence to prove safety and benefits of homegrown transgenic crops.

The Minister for Agriculture Livestock and Fisheries, Hon. Mwigulu Nchemba, said this today Monday during the official opening of the 8th Annual Review and Planning Meeting of the Water Efficient Maize For Africa (WEMA) Project in Dar Es Salaam.

“On behalf of the Government of Tanzania I would like to reiterate that the revised Regulations are a first step towards a more fundamental reform of the regulatory framework, which will become more enabling over time.”

 The implementation of transgenic research in Tanzania is expected to produce science-based evidence on the benefits of the technology. This strategic step-wise approach will allow research output to influence policy and decision-making as the Government embarks on further amendments to remove strict liability for commercialization in line with its National Biotechnology Policy (2010).

The goal of the WEMA Project is to improve food security and rural livelihoods among African small scale maize producers through improved drought-tolerant and insect-protected maize varieties by using conventional breeding techniques and modern biotechnology tools; and to make the seed available to small scale farmers in sub-Saharan African countries royalty-free.

This is a very noble goal, because maize is one of the most important food security crop in most Sub-Saharan African countries.  In Tanzania, maize is cultivated on about 2-3 million hectares in all parts of the country.  “Our average yields are relatively low, about 1.2-1.6 tons per hectare. Some of the major production constraints include incidence of biotic stresses such as pests and diseases; and abiotic stresses in particular declining soil fertility, use of unimproved seed, low utilization of inputs including fertilizers and agro-chemicals and – as mentioned above — incidences of drought.

Periodically cyclical drought has lead to food shortages in a number of African countries, such as Zimbabwe, South Africa, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, etc.,  leading to food insecurity and hunger in many African countries.

In Tanzania, for example, the most affected regions during the  2014/15 season include Shinyanga, Singida, Dodoma, Arusha, Tabora, Kilimanjaro and the northern part of Iringa Region.  “The WEMA Project therefore, came at a very opportune time because it complements and boosts our efforts of mitigating the effects of climate change through the development of maize varieties that can give higher and stable yields under drought stress conditions”, the minister noted.

Hon Nchemba thanked the WEMA Partnership for the good progress it has made in finding solution to maize lethal necrosis (MLN), which is becoming one of the major disease threats to maize production in Tanzania and in some of our neighboring countries. “I would like to urge you to continue with the efforts of developing and deploying varieties that are resistant to this serious disease, he said.”

 On our part as government, we will put mechanism in place to ensure that seed is produced in disease-free areas, and that seed is not moved from disease-prone to disease-free areas within the country.

The Minister underscored the good progress the project had made in developing transgenic or genetically modified drought tolerant and stemborer resistant maize varieties in the Republic of South Africa, Kenya and Uganda.

He said the Tanzania government was aware of the challenges that have delayed the testing of genetically modified maize germplasm in confined field trials in the country and that it was already addressing them step-wise. For example, in 2015 the Government amended the Environmental Management (Biosafety) Regulations of 2009 by removing strict liability for research to provide better environment for conducting transgenic research in the country, he said.

He expressed hope that WEMA project will seize the opportunity to commence the confined field trials of transgenic drought tolerant and stem borer resistant maize so as to provide the government with the much-needed evidence on safety and benefits of GM crops to underpin policy change.

The Minister restated the government of Tanzania’s continuous commitment to the successful implementation of “this extremely important project at the highest level of regulatory compliance with the national biosafety requirements in order to ensure that the confined field trials are conducted in a safe manner, without compromising human, animal and environmental safety.”

He noted that the project had raised the expectations of many maize growers in the country, “who would want to have access to the products that are developed in as short time possible because of the devastating effects of drought, stem borer and maize lethal necrosis disease.

WEMA is a partnership project lead by AATF, CIMMYT and Monsanto and includes the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO), the National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO) of Uganda, the National Institute of Agricultural Research (IIAM) of Mozambique, the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) of South Africa, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) and Monsanto.

 

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