Consultations to finalise Botswana’s proposed national bio-safety framework, whose formulation was completed in 2007 through a United Nations Environment Programme/Global Environment Facility (UNEP/GEF) funded project, are expected to be sealed anytime soon.
As part of this process, the final drafts of the framework have been circulated to heads of government ministries and parastatals with a view to soliciting their comments and to ultimately incorporate them into the CAB MEMO, which is now ready for submission to Cabinet.
“However, given the cross cutting implications of the proposed framework, Government through Ministry of Agriculture has decided to host a one day conference that will bring together experts and specialists in the field of modern biotechnology, and in particular end users especially small farmers to hear what their concerns are concerning the introduction of the new technology,” said Motlalepula Pholo, Bio-Safety Officer, at the Department of Agricultural Research.
The outcome will then complete the submission made to Cabinet for final review and approval.
Modern biotechnology is a science that aims to modify the natural processes of living organisms. It entails the use of living organisms to make or modify a product, improve plants or animals or develop products for specific uses. The technology applies in the fields of Agriculture as in Medicine and Environmental protection.
For example, in Agriculture it is used for development of crop varieties, animal breeds & pest control, while in medicine it is used in the development of drugs as well as for waste management in environmental protection.
Pholo pointed out that, although biotechnology is a powerful tool for sustainable development, with great potential benefits, there are uncertainties and possible risks associated with it.
Some of the issues cited in the list of concerns have been adverse effects on Human and animal health issues in the form of allergens, transfer of antibiotic resistance, toxicity and digestibility of the products.
Regarding environmental concerns, it has general been argued that the unintended transgenic effect through cross-pollination would impact adversely on local species, and result in emergence of new weeds referred to as super weeds. Again genes of genetically modified plants are believed to be naturally instable and aggressive with consequent and random effects on non-targets.
On that basis, efforts have to be made in order to minimize the effects or perceived adverse effects of modern biotechnology (Bio-safety).
To that end, the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (CPB) to the Convention on Biological Diversity was developed as a paradigm guide for control and communication on trans-border trade and policy pertaining to biodiversity matters
Pholo stated expressed the view that CPB creates an enabling environment for the environmentally sound application of biotechnology, making it possible to derive maximum benefits from the potential that biotechnology offer while minimising the possible risks to the environment and to human health.
Social and economic issues, loss of traditional knowledge and displacement of traditional crops as well as ethics were some of risks posed by the introduction of the new technology, according to experts.
It was further indicated that, since Botswana has signed the CPB on June 2001 and ratified it on September 2001 it is obliged to develop legislation on Biosafety.
So that it was against that background that the country developed through extensive consultations, a framework consisting of the Biosafety bill, Biosafety policy and Biosafety regulations as parties are encouraged to cooperate on research and information exchange on any socio-economic impacts of living modified organisms, (LMOs) especially on indigenous and local communities.
Even though, it has also emerged that SADC countries have agreed at a Conference in the past, on the need for “Innovation Systems for Poverty Reduction and Sustainable Development” and that they will consider socio-economic impacts in their GMOs risk assessments procedures, it appears that there is limited understanding on what the specific socio-economic issues are.
To mitigate for the gap and as a follow up on a survey which was previously conducted on Pandamatenga and Barolong Small-scale farmers, a consultative conference consisting of stakeholders from different disciplines as well as community based organisations is scheduled to take place next week on 15th March 2010 at Maharaja Conference centre.
“The workshop will be premised on the recognition that development of new technologies goes in tandem with development of appropriate policies on access to the technologies and measures to curtail their potential negative impacts on sustainable development,” posited the Ministry official.