By BENEDICT TEMBO
Minister of Green Economy and Environment Collins Nzovu has prodded researchers and scientists in Zambia to take keen interest in biotechnology research to improve the lives of our people and combat emerging diseases, improve productivity, and provide quality medicines in order to spur socioeconomic development.
Mr Nzovu said in order to strengthen the application of biotechnology and biosafety, the Ministry Green Economy and Environment has commenced the process of reviewing biotechnology and biosafety policy of 2003.
He said the draft policy has since been developed and currently undergoing validation process.
“Once the policy is finalised, it will provide a legal framework in addressing the challenges that affect biotechnology and other related issues, Mr Nzovu said in Lusaka today during the official opening of awareness and sensitisation meeting for heads of departments for schools and research institutions applying biotechnology and biosafety.
He said it is important to note that in recent years, biotechnology is being used to find solutions in agriculture, medicine, environment and industrial applications.
Mr Nzovu said some of Zambia’s neighboring countries are already utilising biotechnology in agriculture.
He said Malawi has commercialised the production of genetically modified cotton.
“In addition, today as we speak genetically modified cotton has now reached farmers in Malawi and Kenya while Uganda has genetically modified bananas commonly known as plantain. Today we also have vaccines that have been made through genetic modification, among them Astrazenca, Johnson and Johnson, Moderna which are used in the fight against Covid-19; insulin for diabates and many gene therapies used for genetic disorders,” Mr Nzovu said.
He said it is evident that the country environment has not been spared by the negatives effects of climate change and thus requires biosafety measures in the application of the technology.
Mr Nzovu said the impacts of climate change include among others, low yields, more pests and diseases, increased heat stress on organisms, drought, increased soil salinity, high temperatures, more flooding and wildfires.
“Therefore, biotechnology is a tool in the hands of researchers like yourselves to find solutions to mitigate climate change impacts and other environmental management issues that have greatly affected the country,” he said
He is aware that issues of genetically modified organisms in Zambia remain contentious and cannot be ignored.
“some contributing factors include misinformation, disinformation, lack of understanding of modern biotechnology and myths among others. The holding of this meeting has come at the right time when the majority of our citizens have inadequate information with regards to genetically modified organisms (GMOS) and do not appreciate the benefits of biotechnology,” Mr Nzovu said
Earlier, National Biosafety Authority chief executive officer/ registrar, Lackson Tonga said biotechnology is one of the tools that may provide answers to some of environmental challenges the country is facing today including climate change.
“Currently, Zambia allows for research involving genetic engineering except in crops or livestock of strategic national importance. Therefore, this is an opportunity for tertiary and research institutions to conduct research on issues that the country may need solutions from be it in medical and animal health, agriculture, environment, mining or industry, but research and development as well as commercialization should be conducted by observing the safety of human, animals and environment,” Mr Tonga said
He currently the NBA has allowed research in the health sector where it has issued some permits on activities aimed at fighting HIV, diarrhea in children, and sickle cell.
“We have also been part of the fight against Covid-19 by conducting risk assessments on some genetically modified Covid -19 vaccines,” Mr Tonga said