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11.02.2006 Regional News

Go beyond scare biotechnology issues - African Journalists urged


From Linda Asante Agyei, GNA Correspondent, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Addis Ababa, Feb. 11, GNA - African Journalists have been urged to go beyond the usual concentration on scare issues of biotechnology to harness it for progress and conservation.

Mr Josue Dione, Director of the Sustainable Development Division of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), said this at the end of a three-day regional hands-on training for some journalists on "Improving Media Coverage on Biotechnology in Eastern and Central Africa".

He said, "Biotechnology is a tool of great of opportunities and many challenges. Its potential impacts and benefits are enormous in the areas of agriculture development, health care, trade, environment and natural resources management, industry and energy development.

"No tool in recent times has been as scrutinized and beset with controversies as modern biotechnology and these controversies are particularly overwhelming in food and agriculture".

He said there was the need for journalists to understand the issues of biotechnology and if "they understand the truth about biotech, then, they would be able to report more accurately in a manner that clarifies".

The workshop was organized by the International Service for Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) AfriCentre based in Nairobi in collaboration with UNECA, UNESCO and Agricultural Biotechnology Support Program (ABSPII).

It was to enhance the capacities of the journalists reporting on biotechnology, introduce them to crop biotechnology basics in the context of sustainable agriculture and food security as well as test, adopt and publish a multi media biotechnology training kit for journalists.

The participants were from Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Burundi, Cote d'Iviore and Ghana.

Mr Dione said biotechnology, which was a term used to represent a continuum of different bio-techniques ranging from simple non-controversial tissue culture to genetic engineering or gene-splicing embodied in modern biotechnology has now been considered as the "leading technology of the 21st century with tremendous potential to address economic, social and environmental issues afflicting the poor in the developing nations", he added.

Dr Strike Mkandla, United Nations Environment Programme Representative to the African Union (AU), said UNECA's cultural shift of taking inter-agency cooperation seriously to the extent of being tempted to fly the flag of one's organisation had enabled the UN-Biotech /Africa to build on strengths of partner organisations to a unified service to African institutions like the AU and NEPAD.

He urged journalists to serve as libraries who would ignite interests and awareness and convey the simple truth where they were needed for the general public who needed the information to make their daily decisions on what to grow, what was safe to eat and what would have consequences for the plants and animals resources they chose. Dr Margaret Karembu, Director of ISAAA, AfriCentre, said biotechnology had become the focus of global war of rhetoric, which had not spared Africa.

She noted that some other parts of the world were increasingly adopting and mainstreaming biotechnology products in their agricultural systems with Africa lagging behind due to the lack of bio-safety laws and regulations as well and biotechnology policies.

Dr Karembu mentioned other areas lacking as low investment in biotechnology research and development, accurate understanding of biotech among policy makers and consumers, limited competent institutional and human capacities, inadequate and sensational coverage of biotechnology and the controversy over genetically modified foods. The participants visited the Armauer Hansen Research Institute in Addis Ababa, which is the research centre on leprosy and Tuberculosis for Africa.