Thursday, 20 November 2008

The GMO debate - battle lines thicken...

Julius Mugwagwa, Project Coordinator of the CI Biosafety Project, reports back from Kenya where the Biosafety Project workshop and First all-Africa Congress on Biotechnology took place:

"The last two weeks of September 2008 brought Africa in general and Kenya specifically under the spotlight as far as the science of genetic engineering and its products are concerned.

First, for three gruelling days from 17 to 19 September, more than 20 participants representing consumer and civil society organisations from 10 African countries met in Nairobi and deliberated on campaigning and advocacy strategies under the auspices of Consumer International’s Biosafety Project funded by the European Commission.

The tensions that exist between different stakeholders as countries battle to develop and implement biosafety regulatory systems were very clear; and could not have been epitomised more vividly than by the discussions on the Biosafety Bill in Kenya.

Pressures from different interest group were well documented, with consumer organisations bemoaning being pushed out of the policy space by corporate interests and other pro-technology players in the issue. The workshop discussed and shared experiences on how to deal with these issues, recognising the importance of the local context in all this. Experiences were also heard from Brazil and South Korea.

In the end, participants agreed on concrete steps to take in ensuring that the consumer voice is heard in the biotechnology debate, seeing as it is that the tensions between various interest groups are nowhere near termination. Special thanks to the European Commission, the Commonwealth Foundation, Hivos and the CI Council for funding this workshop, and Consumer Information Network (CIN), Kenya for being excellent local organisers and hosts of this milestone event.

In the week following the consumer organisations’ meeting, more than 400 researchers, scientists, policy makers, representatives of multinational companies and international organisations, government officials, media practitioners and others gathered in Nairobi from all parts of the world for what was dubbed the First all-Africa Congress on Biotechnology.

The Congress aimed to take stock of the current biotechnology activities on the continent, with the aim of discussing and assessing how best the continent can harness the technology to address pressing socio-economic challenges. The Congress was clearly pro-biotechnology, judging from the different groups and individuals in attendance, the presentations made and the main messages from the presentations. One senior civil servant from the Kenyan government even had the temerity to say ‘let’s push civil society out of the debate arena … they are distorting the messages going to our farmers’. Talk about throwing all caution to the wind!

Meanwhile, the CI Biosafety Project continues with the campaigning and advocacy capacity-building efforts with two more regional workshops - one in Sao Paulo (Brazil) from 25 to 27 November for partners in Latin America; and the other in Jakarta (Indonesia) from 10 to 12 December, for partners from Indonesia and Azerbaijan and selected countries from the Asia-Pacific region."

More information on these workshops and other activities of the Biosafety Project can be obtained from Julius Mugwagwa.

1 comment:

  1. I'm wondering when the rest of the world is going to follow the bio energy source Ethanol from Brazil...
    Besides ethanol there is also another bio energy source: gas. A lot of cars are equiped with this system, a big liquid gas tank in the trunck. It takes a little bit longer in the gasstation, but it's the correct thing to do.