Zimbabwe discussing big biotech issues
Zimbabwe launched a forum to encourage public discussion on the use of biotechnology to boost the country’s food security.
The Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB), launched in December, aims to explore ways to boost Zimbabwe’s crop yields without using genetically modified (GM) crops, which are banned in the country.
Speaking at the launch of the forum, Zimbabwe’s minister of higher and tertiary education, science and technology development, Olivia Muchena, called for greater public awareness about the role of biotechnology in agriculture, to dispel the misconception that biotechnology necessarily means GM technology.
Biotechnology refers to scientific techniques that use biological systems, living organisms or their derivatives to make or modify products or processes—for example, to develop seeds that germinate faster or produce bigger yields. Genetic modification, which is a particular biotech approach, alters the genetic structure of living organisms to confer characteristics such as better resistance to disease and tolerance of heat or water stress.
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are the most divisive among the various biotechnologies, and Zimbabwe is one of several African countries that have banned the cultivation or sale of GM crops.
The private sector—including some companies that use GM tools—is backing the new forum in the hope it may eventually influence government policy on GMOs, even though GM is not within its remit.
“Forums like this are important as a country considers the best way to bring innovation to their agricultural industry and how to improve the food security of its people,” said Barbra Sehlule Muzata, a spokesperson for DuPont Pioneer.
The company produces hybrid seeds used by Zimbabwean farmers, which it says help improve crop productivity and quality. It also offers GM products.
“Similar forums have played a key role in other countries around the world, and we hope Zimbabwe will have a positive experience as well. We look forward to working together to help address the challenges Zimbabwe farmers face,” Muzata said.
Ian Robertson, chief executive officer of Agri-Biotech (Pvt) Ltd, said the OFAB should provide science-based advice and knowledge to the media, schools and politicians.
“There is a need to vet rumors and gossip to sieve out the truth based on scientific reports of trials with genuine controls to show differences between non-GM and GM,” he said.
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