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NewsAuthority permits confined testing for GMO potatoes

Authority permits confined testing for GMO potatoes

First genome editing guideline tabled for ratification

The Ethiopian Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) is providing a special permit for late-blight resistant potatoes (Genetically Modified Organisms) to be tested in a confined trial farming area. The decision came a year after the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR) requested the permit, after which the EPA and the National Biosafety Advisory Committee reviewed the request.

The authority also provided environmental clearance for Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA maize), a GM maize that can survive on little water in dry farming areas.

The Advisory Committee was formed in 2017 by the Council of Ministers to advise the government on transactions involving genetically modified organisms and on any other matters related to bio-safety.

The 2015 biosafety proclamation, which allowed GMOs for the first time in Ethiopia, stipulates three layers of processes to adopt a GM product into the local cultivation system.

The first is laboratory research of genetic GMO materials. The second is the planting and testing of GMOs on confined and fenced farm land. Only the biotechnology institute and EIAR can undertake these tests.

The third and last test is releasing the GMO seed for farmers to commercialize.

So far, confined testing has been given for two GMO cotton varieties, Enset (false banana), potato, and maize.

The Committee has convened five times to evaluate progress during the just ended 2021/22, according to the annual performance report of the EPA.

“After an in-depth review of applications for environmental clearance for Bt-cotton and WEMA maize, the authorities approved the commercialization of Bt-cotton and provided environmental clearance for WEMA-maize in Ethiopia,” read the report.

Confined testing of WEMA maize was previously underway at Bako and Melkasa agricultural research centers.

Regarding the GM potato, the EIAR will soon commence confined testing, which has not started so far, according to officials of the EIAR.

However, Bt-Gt cotton, which is the first GM variety commercialized in 2019, is facing setbacks. Cotton farmers are instead relying on Bt-Gt cotton, which is not approved in Ethiopia but smuggled from Sudan via borders.

“We have planned to discuss with all the cotton farmers in the country in December regarding the problems with Bt-Gt, access to GM cotton seed and issues related to smuggled GMO cotton from Sudan. We have been closely following the issue of smuggled GMO cotton seed into Ethiopia via the border,” said Desalegn Atnafu, acting director for Biosafety and Invasive Alien Species Controlling department at the EPA.

Asked whether Ethiopia’s ongoing lowland wheat program, which is basically a drought-resistant wheat variety, is GMO or not, Desalegn responded, “I have no information.”

Officials of the EPA and stakeholders also convened for a three-day consolation forum beginning September 28, 2022 on “gene editing to align with national regulations by assessing global experience and incorporation of socio-economic issues on the deliberate release of GMOs.”

“Participants will present documents on socio-economic issues and incorporation on the deliberate release of GMOs for decision makers and a draft genome editing guideline that will help to fill the gap in the biosafety legal framework of the country,” Nigusu Lema, director general of climate change and biodiversity at the EPA, said.

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