THE WAY FORWARD: OPPORTUNITIES AND CONSTRAINTS

BIOSAFETY AND RISK ASSESSMENT

A biosafety approach would include taking measures to minimize risks to human and environmental health. This could include:

  • Ensuring that thorough information is available and that risks are understood and mitigated;
  • Products containing GMOs must be clearly labelled and information readily available;
  • Clear and fair liability laws and producer responsibility; and
  • Genetic and biological material should be managed and contained to high standards.

Evidence-based GMO risk assessments to assure transparent decision making based on human health and ecological data need to be developed. Risk assessments should be on a case-by-case basis as results obtained from other countries might not be replicable. Deliberative approaches should be considered.

The controversy around risks and opportunities demonstrates the need for effective multilevel assessment procedures that incorporate a precautionary approach as envisaged under the Cartagena Protocol. This policy and legislative approach needs to be complemented by capacity development. Countries need to have the capacity to identify GMOs and also to evaluate the risks associated with them.

RISK MANAGEMENT

Possible mitigation plans should be in place in case undesirable outcomes are experienced. This requires that African countries should establish efficient traceability systems as part of their mitigation measures.

RESEARCH PRIORITY-SETTING

Agricultural research, including transgenic research, needs to focus on African realities and needs. African agriculture is largely small-scale and relies on polycultures, which consists of many crops being grown on the same plot with possibilities of symbiotic leguminous relationships providing nitrogen fixation (Makanya 2004). In addition to intercropping, trees and shrubs (agroforestry) are the anchor perennial species, providing mycorrhiza for mobilizing phosphorus and other nutrients. and these trees and shrubs promote soil protection against erosion by wind and water. Also, each of Africa’s main staples and about 300 leafy vegetables have perennial cultivars and provide a starting point for the genetic selection and breeding of the best cultivars to incorporate into the traditional tree-and-shrub polyculture in farming households (Odhiambo 2001). Development of GMOs should aim to tap these special qualities of Africa’s native flora and fauna in the efforts to improve food security and make genetic engineering beneficial to Africa’s environment and development.

Research will need to be based on meaningful partnerships between users and researchers if it is to be more responsive to local needs (Jones 2005). Given the multiplicity of CSOs and other public interest groups. there is considerable opportunity for developing such partnerships.

Partnerships with the private sector are essential for the sharing of technologies, information and knowledge.