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General News of Saturday, 25 June 2005

Source: GNA

ECOWAS biotechnology Conference in Bamako

(By Linda Asante Agyei GNA Special Correspondent Bamako, Mali)

Bamako, June 25, GNA - Ghana's Minister for Environment and Science, Ms Christine Churcher, today called on governments in the sub-region to see the building of functional infrastructure that will support the safe development and use of modern biotechnology as an opportunity to exploit biodiversity for sustainable development. She said there was the need for governments to invest sufficient funds into building human and material capacity for effective implementation of the frameworks, adding that, that was the only way Africans could manage modern biotechnology for a healthy life, while accelerating the socio-economic development of the continent.

Ms Churcher, who made the call at the end of a four-day ECOWAS conference on biotechnology in Bamako, Mali, said the time had come for the sub-region to embrace the whole idea of biotechnology to promote sustainable agricultural production to reduce hunger and poverty, which had almost collapsed the continent.

The conference, which was under the theme "Strategies and Actions for Sustainable Agricultural Production, Safety for Humans and Environment", brought together agricultural scientists, farmers, producers and researchers from the sub-region, Asia and other parts of the world.

Ms Churcher said though we were not that familiar with modern biotechnology, especially with respect to Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and its products, which is virtually new, "we are naturally concern about the its impact on human safety and the environment. The acceptance of modern biotechnology and its potential role in enhancing food security in Africa, will be determined by weighing the perceived risks against potential benefits", she added. She noted that, there were genuine concerns raised regarding the potential negative effect of Genetically Modified (GM) crops on the environment that could not be addressed in a scientific and transparent manner unless "we build the human and material capacity to do so. We as African countries should swim with the tide otherwise, we will be left behind as did the green revolution".

Ms Churcher called for the need to review and harmonise the bio-safety regulatory framework and strengthen collaboration between member states and the international community to ensure effective implementation of the bio-safety review process. "I urge all member states to put in place implement able bio-safety structures to facilitate the control of movement of GMOs on our continent. Consistent and scientifically sound bio-safety regulatory frameworks at the regional level will also pave the way for us to initiate joint activities to deploy modern biotechnology to solve food security and related development problems in the sub-region".

She explained that Ghana's bio-safety framework have been developed, waiting to go through the process for approval from parliament and was working towards educating policymakers and the general public on the modern biotechnology and GMOs on their efficient role in agricultural productivity in the areas of socio-economic development.

Chief Bamidele F. Dada, Nigerian Minister of state in charge of Agriculture and Rural Development in his presentation, said Africa has been considered to be slow in technology adoption, hence it continued to lag behind in reaping the benefits, as well as the food production lagging behind population growth. "This perception is often associated with bureaucracy or rigid conditions and should on the other hand be appreciated with respect to biotechnology", he added.

Chief Dada noted that it was through effective collaboration that the sub-region could achieve the quantum leap Africa needed to catch up with the other worlds to gain the prominence in the area of agricultural research and development. He encouraged member countries to hold periodic meetings to address the issue of biotechnology due to its importance and the need to ensure that the region come to the forefront in harnessing the best technology could offer for the betterment of the people. At the end of the meeting, Ghana was opted to host the next meeting in Accra come June, next year.

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