African governments should establish solid regulatory frameworks to ensure that the introduction of genetically modified crops poses minimal risk to communities and the environment, scientists said at a forum in Nairobi on Wednesday.
Kenya is hosting a high-level conference to discuss innovative ways to harness nature-based assets to transform African agriculture amid threats linked to climate change, population pressure and shrinking arable land.
Scientists attending an organic farming conference underway in Nairobi urged African countries to embrace agricultural biotechnology with caution given its potential risks.
“Genetically modified products come with inherent risks hence the need for countries in Africa to put in place safeguards before their introduction to farmers,” said Judy Carman, director of Australia based institute of health and environmental research.
She warned that intensive use of herbicides and fertilizers that are the hallmarks of agricultural biotechnology could be detrimental to the health of farmers, consumers and fragile ecosystems in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Senior policymakers, scientists and green campaigners attending the three-day conference agreed that rigorous scientific research combined with public awareness and strong regulations should precede the adoption of genetically modified crops.
Tyrone Hayes, an American biologist said that capacity development for local scientists, consumer awareness and a strong inspection regime is imperative to buffer African communities from potential risks of genetically modified crops.
“We cannot overlook the potential risks that large scale adoption of genetically modified crops could unleash to natural habitats in Africa,” said Hayes.
“Consumer safety, in particular, must inform any attempts to transition African agriculture from subsistence to mechanization through intensive application of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides,” he added.
Peter Mokaya, director of Nairobi-based Organic Consumers Alliance said that African countries should address policy, regulatory and capacity gaps before introducing genetically modified food crops.