It has emerged at the just ended one day consultative workshop on the formulation of the national biosafety framework that the present level of awareness regarding both the benefits and the adverse effects of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) may represent a risk to the environment.
Dr Pharoah Mosupi, Director of Agricultural Research, has said, “With the rapid development and commercialisation┬á of genetically modified crops, there is a need for stakeholders such as farmers, scientists and administrators as well as decision makers to understand the risks issues associated with the use of GMOs with particular respect to their own country situation.”
Mosupi pointed out that due to the socio-economic provisions covered in the Cartagena protocol on Biosafety (Article) 26, SADC countries had indicated at the conference on “innovation systems for poverty reduction and sustainable development”, that they will consider the socio-economic impacts in their GMO risk assessments procedures.
On account of the limited understanding on what the specific socio-economic issues are and on mechanisms or tools for carrying out such assessments, the Regional Agricultural and Environmental Initiatives Network-Africa (RAEIN-Africa) has identified certain needs that were considered critical in filling the gap.
Mosupi added that, developing a clear understanding of what biosafety socio-economic considerations countries should take note of as they assess the potential risks and benefits of GMOs, and development of the guidelines, tools or model for socio-economic risk assessment as well as management of such risks, were some of the identified needs.
There was, also the question of building capacity of the RAEIN-Africa partners who include the Botswana Ministry of Agriculture Research Department on risk and impact assessment.
Notwithstanding these identified needs, participants at the consultative workshop, which was held at the Maharaja Conference Centre on Monday this week, expressed reservations at the presentations of what was said to be the outcomes of studies conducted by the department of Agriculture in the Barolong area and the Pandamatenga, a predominantly farming area.
Sununguko Wata Mpoloka, Lecturer in the University of Botswana’s department of Biological Sciences queried that one would have thought that the premises of the study involved trials on the farming of GM crops and therefore feedback based on the farmers’ practical experience rather than speculation and perceptions.
“I have a problem seeing the connection between the objectives of the workshop and the rationale behind choosing the places targeted for the studies,” questioned Mpoloka.
To make matters worse another presenter, Rebecca Kgosi, Director Extension Services in the MOA, had indicated that the introduction of GMOs will make a positive difference in the lives of many small farmers who stand to gain from increased yield and minimal weeds as well as investment of less costly inputs, in GMOs as opposed to conventional hybrids.
Dr Ignatius Ndzinge, a Veterinarian, representing Botswana Confederation of Commerce and Industry Manpower (BOCCIM) told The Telegraph that only big business will benefit from the introduction of GMOs on a commercial basis than subsistence farmers.
Responding to the concerns raised at the workshop, Mosupi intimated that a clear line should be drawn between efforts to come up with a law that will enable control of GMOs on the one hand, and the fact that as matter of practice at a personal or business level the movement of GMOs continues unchecked since there are no inspectors at the border sanctioned by law in line with the relevant international protocols.