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Directives to regulate GMO commercialization

Directives to regulate GMO commercialization

As Ethiopia is pushing her way for commercialization of Genetically Modified Cotton variety—BT Cotton, five separates directives – all related to GMOs – are awaiting the endorsement of the Ministry of Environment Protection and Climate Change, The Reporter has learnt.

Basically, the directives will set the standard for the use of BT Cotton varieties at different levels. This was disclosed at a workshop held on October 5, 2017 at Elilly International Hotel. The workshop entitled ‘’Technology commercialization and product stewardship outreach program for cotton stakeholders in Ethiopia” was attended by different stakeholders including investors on cotton farming.

The workshop was organized by the Ethiopian Institute for Agricultural Research (EIAR) in collaboration with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD).

During the meeting it was said that the five directives are already finalized and awaiting approval.

“We hope that they will be approved by the Ministry soon,” an expert on the field told The Reporter.

The list of directives includes procedure for management of risks emanating from any transaction in Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs); directives to determine the requirement for conducting transaction and storage of GMOs; directive establishing the contents of an application for special permit to transact in GMOs; directive to engage in transaction of GMOs for research and teaching as well as on risk assessment.

These directives follow from a similar proclamation on bio-safety which was amended in 2015 by the House of Peoples’ Representatives.

 The use of GMOs has been under scrutiny before and after the 2015 amendment. Different commentators, has been criticizing the use of GMOs in Ethiopia. They argued that the usage will have a negative impact on public health as well as environment.

The controversy surrounding the use of BT Cotton is also a global agenda. For years, those concerned for the environment and those advocating the use of BT Cotton have been at loggerheads.

Nongovernmental organizations, environmental activists as well as multinational companies are said to be on the two sides of the “use—don’t to use” argument of BT Cottons.

In Africa there are few countries such as South Africa, Nigeria and Sudan which have allowed the use of BT Cottons as well other GMO crops.

Burkina Faso, which was among the first African countries to use BT Cotton, has abandoned it following environmental concerns and low productivity. In 2003, the Burkina Faso government agreed with a US BT Cotton seed producer called Monsato to plant BT Cotton.

Following this arrangement, seeds were distributed to farmers across Burkina Faso. However, after years of commercialization of BT Cotton, the Burkina Faso government announced that it is going to stop the use of BT Cotton altogether.

This came after a call by farmers who criticized the use of that particular cotton variety. They argued that the seed is affecting their health and the health of their cattle population. In addition, they told their government that the so-called improved seeds have lower productivity than the conventional cotton seeds.

Despite this global as well as continental shift in the use of BT and other GMO crops, still more and more African governments are starting to open their doors to GMO utilization.

“We know that there are NGOs who oppose the use of BT Cotton and BT crops,” Adugna Wakjira (PhD), deputy director of EIAR, said.

“However, to make their point they have to come up with scientific evidence,” he said.

As far as Ethiopia’s case is concerned, since last year, the Institute has been conducting confined filed trials of BT Cotton across eight selected location across the country.

“We have concluded the first phase filed trails and evaluation,” said an expert close to the case. In fact, the Institute has started the second round this is year.

Following the field trials, the results will be tested in a laboratory to decide the commercialization of BT Cotton. In this regard, the country is expected to begin the commercialization in the coming few years.

The cotton variety is expected to satisfy the growing demand for quality cotton raw material in Ethiopia, especially the ever growing appetite of the textile sector.

With the development of giant industrial parks across the regions, dedicated for the textile sector, Ethiopia is expected to generate up to one billion dollar in revenue from the sector by the end of the second growth and transformation plan.