At the height of the debate on genetically modified organisms (GMOs), the Zambian government in 2007 established the National Biosafety Authority (NBA).
President Levy Mwanawasa had declared Zambia a no-go GMO country despite the hunger that gripped the country.The NBA has been in existence since the enactment of the Biosafety Act No 10 of 2007 while the board was inaugurated in May, 2013.The NBA was to ensure that any activity involving the use of any GMOs or product of genetic engineering does not have negative social-economic impact or harm to human and animal health, or indeed any damage to the environment, non-genetically modified crop and biological diversity because all activities are to be subjected to risk assessment for any permit to be granted.
However, eight years ago after its establishment, NBA is slowly taking shape with the setting up of the secretariat and recruitment of key staff.The board has since put in place the scientific advisory committee, the administration and finance committees.
NBA registrar Doris Musonda said the objective of the NBA was to inform the public about the existence of the NBA and raise awareness about its mandate.
“The NBA is fairly a new institution, which has just set up its secretariat this year although the Act is of 2007,” Ms Musonda said of the five-member staff currently running the NBA in Chilanga.NBA is receiving a lot of support from the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) staff.NBA hopes to recruit six more members of staff in 2016.
Ms Musonda said the board, appointed in 2013 has just been setting up the administrative structures of the institution until sometime last year when it started processing permits for applications to import GMO products into Zambia.
Ms Musonda said the NBA is the only institution that is mandated to authorise any person or institution that wants to handle anything related to GMOs in Zambia.
“These activities include research, application, import, export, transit, contained use, release or placing on the market of any genetically modified organism, whether intended for use as a pharmaceutical, food, feed or an ingredient for processing, or a product of a genetically modified organism in Zambia,” Ms Musonda said.
“Therefore, the NBA will ensure regulation of all activities surrounding GMOs or products of GMOs which should result in safe application of the biotechnology. Consequently, this should increase compliance with the law by stakeholders handling GMOs,” she explained.
One of the NBA’s strategic objectives is “to establish and implement mechanisms for effective public awareness, education and participation” which should raise awareness about regulation of GMOs in Zambia and educate the public on the same to increase their participation.
“It is hoped that this should make the reception to the technology less sensitive in Zambia than the case may be now among the general public and that there will be judicious application of the technology, while enhancing Zambia’s social-economic and environmental well-being.
Currently, the NBA is collaborating with several Government departments, the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC), the Zambia Agricultural Research Institute, the National Institute of Scientific and Industrial Research (NISIR), the Zambia Environmental Management Agency (ZEMA), the Alliance for Commodity Trade in Eastern and Southern Africa (ACTESA) at the COMESA secretariat, the University of Zambia and the United States embassy.
Internationally, the NBA is working closely with the African Biosafety Network of Expertise (ABNE), a NEPAD agency, AfricaBio and the Assuring agricultural and food safety of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in Southern Africa (GMASSURE) and several institutions involved in biosafety issues.
ACTESA is building the capacity of staff and board in biotechnology, which includes training and exposure visits.
“There are a few more activities lined up for next year but are yet to be approved,” Ms Musonda said.
The NBA is being guided by the Biosafety and Biotechnology Policy of 2003, and the Biosafety Act No. 10 of 2007 are in place to facilitate the activities of the NBA.
“However, we still need a number of statutory instruments (SIs) to operationalise the act. Currently, there is only one SI on food, feed and ingredients for processing. Some guidelines have also been developed but we still need more,” Ms Musonda said.
Getachew Belay, the ACTESA senior biotechnology policy advisor said a product of GMO technology should be regulated before it is released to the environment, and the Zambian government is announcing that the regulatory system is now in place.
“Therefore, potential applicants to start field trials or import commodities will now have a place to file their applications in accordance with the Biosafety Act and derived regulatory procedures. Please also remember that this is in view of the level of public perception in Zambia.
Dr Belay said the COMESA/ACTESA has been supporting the NBA staff to participate in study tours and experience sharing visits to Burkina Faso, Sudan, Malawi, India and the US.
“This brings increased confidence to consider applications for trials,” Dr Belay said.
Dr Belay said in the coming years, support areas will be in accordance with the COMESA biotechnology and biosafety policy implementation plan.
“These will include awareness enhancement [the public, media, farmers, high-level policy and decision making], biosafety trainings to NBA officers and study tours,” Dr Belay added.
NBA board chairperson Paul Zambezi said the launch of the NBA two weeks ago was to let the Zambian people know that there is now a Government institution which will be regulating the development and application of modern biotechnology in order to ensure safe handling of GMOs and their products in Zambia.
Dr Zambezi said NBA is going to fill its knowledge gap, which seems to be common in most of the developing countries. Therefore, the launching of NBA will enable the institution to embark on public awareness programmes.
[Zambia Daily Mail]