AU wants member states to accommodate emerging technologies in laws

Nigeria and Kenya have been singled out as two countries in Africa that have taken the lead in the application of emerging technologies like genome editing towards boosting food security that could result in commensurate increase in the fortune of farmers.

The progress by the countries and Swaziland, as reported by Cornell Alliance for Science comes at a time the African Union is urging its member states to amend their existing laws and regulations to accommodate new technologies that could boost food production in the region.

Although, all AU member states are currently at different stages in developing a regulated framework for the application of modern biotechnology, the three African nations have reportedly made significant strides in establishing guidelines to regulate gene editing and gene drive at a time other countries are doing case-by-case regulation.

Nigeria, for example, passed its biosafety regulation in 2015 and has since adopted two genetically modified (GM) crops: insect-resistant Bt cotton and Bt cowpea.

Kenya, in its drive to become a middle-income country, is strengthening its biosafety framework to facilitate the adoption of crops developed through the tools of biotechnology.  Kenya is now leading African countries since it has begun drafting guidelines to regulate gene-edited products, using procedures in Argentina as a model. The draft guidelines define what needs to be regulated, what is partially regulated and what is not regulated at all.

In a statement that suggests support to the stride made so far in this regard, Olalekan Akinbo, senior program officer of the African Union Development Agency  (AUDA-NEPAD) said, “Each African Union member state needs to amend their existing laws and regulations to accommodate for the new emerging technologies, such as genome editing and gene drive, to make it legal binding for every member state to make progress.”

In December, the Director General of Nigeria’s National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA), Dr. Rufus Ebegba, disclosed that the Federal Government has formally validated the national biosafety guidelines on gene editing, aimed at ensuring that its products do not have adverse impact on human health.

Speaking in Abuja, Dr Ebegba also said Nigeria had resolved to make science and technology major drivers of the economy, stressing the need for an urgent amendment to existing laws on this.

“We seriously believe that gene editing needs adequate regulation so that products developed will not be harmful to the environment, human health, plants, and animals. Based on this, there is an urgent need to amend the NBMA Act 2015 to include emerging aspects of modern biotechnology in the area of synthetic biology, gene drive and gene editing,” Dr Ebegba said.

He said that the NBMA was working with other research institutes to come up with a robust document that will ensure proper regulation.



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