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20.06.2005 General News

ECOWAS Ministers meet on Biotechnology


Accra, June 20, GNA - An Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) Ministerial Meeting opens in Bamako, Mali, on Tuesday to enable member countries to discuss the preparedness of the West Africa to adopt biotechnology to enhance agriculture.

The Meeting is a follow-up to a similar meeting held in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, last year where participants resolved to raise public awareness about biotechnology, create a Regional Biotechnology Centre of Excellence and adopt a Regional Biotechnology Action Plan and regional harmonisation of bio-safety systems.

Professor Walter Alhassan, Program for Bio-safety Systems Co-ordinator for West and Central Africa, in an interview with the Ghana News Agency, said the meeting would consider bio-safety policy development and regulatory framework for the region.

It would also discuss a regional strategy for communication in bio-safety, regional biotechnology programme of development and biotechnology related intellectual property issues.

Prof. Alhassan defined biotechnology as any use of technological application that uses biological systems or derivatives thereof, to make or modify products for specific use.

He said biotechnology could be used for plants, animals and microorganisms.

He said some products of agricultural biotechnology were highly resistant to crop insects, highly nutritional and potent for vaccines for animal diseases.

Prof. Alhassan stressed that the introduction of biotechnology was a tool to complement traditional agriculture for food security and poverty reduction as well as facilitate the accelerated production of new varieties of plants and breeds of animals and not to replace the conventional way of farming.

He explained that the current status of biotechnology in the Sub-Region was not encouraging adding that it was only Nigeria that had shown commitment by coming out with a national policy and creating a Centre of Excellence for Biotechnology at Shrestco, near Abuja. "They have also established a National Biotechnology Development Agency and Advanced Laboratory which is yet to be completed and these show how committed they are."

Prof. Alhassan noted that La C=F4te d'Ivoire had the biggest biotechnology laboratory at its national agricultural research institute while smaller, albeit functional agricultural biotechnology laboratories, are in Senegal, Mali, Cameroon and Ghana.

Cassava, yam, cocoyam, sweet potato, banana, Irish potato, maize, sorghum, rice, oil palm, coconut, cotton, fibre crops, cowpea, coconut, cattle, goat, sheep and poultry are some of the crops and animals receiving biotechnology attention.

He said in Ghana, a Bio-safety Bill was currently at the Ministry of Environment and Science for study adding that there was the need to have a law to back existing bio-safety guidelines.

Prof. Alhassan expressed regret that the Sub-Region was lagging behind other regions in the advancement of biotechnology. "Current initiatives indicate the resolve of West Africa to address the low capacity in biotechnology. Numerous international agencies are providing the needed support but there is the need to harmonise these activities."

He urged African governments to invest in biotechnology and reduce the growing dependency on the donor community.

"The future is bright for West Africa in the resolve to use biotechnology as one of the means to ensure food security and poverty reduction if current resolve is backed by action," he said.