AUDA-NEPAD Sharpens MEPA on Biosafety

23Oct 2021
The Guardian Reporter
DAR ES SALAAM
The Guardian
AUDA-NEPAD Sharpens MEPA on Biosafety

Malawi Environment Protection Authority (MEPA) in partnership with the AfricanUnion Development Agency (AUDA-NEPAD) Environment and Sustainability.

Division recently held a virtual training that brought different experts across the global to build capacity for the National Biosafety Regulatory Committee on stack traits in Genetics, a branch of biology.

The meeting was also graced by members of  the Agriculture Technology Transfer Committee in the Department of Agriculture Research Services. 

CHARLES MKOKA of AUDA-NEPAD Agenda 2063 Media Network spoke to LILIAN CHIMPHEPO PhD, Focal Point for the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety and Biosafety Registrar at MEPA to shed light on the status of thistechnically challenging sector for non-scientists in Malawi.

Briefly explain Biosafety and why it is an important area in environmental management? The concept of biosafety encompasses a range of measures, policies and procedures for minimizing potential risks that biotechnology may pose to the environment and human health.   

With regards to Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO), measures are put in place to ensure that their use, handling and transfer does not pose any threat to biodiversity and risk to human health.   Malawi has put in place legal and institutional framework that regulates all activities regarding the use of GMOs.

No person is allowed to undertake activities or release in the environmentGMOs without getting license or permit under the Biosafety Act of 2002.

It is key to note that Malawi is rich in biodiversity and whatever technologies we are adopting asa country should not cause any threat to other living organisms.  

Hence when the country is adopting GM technology, safety assessment must be done to avoid losingthe genetic diversity for our crops/plants and other organisms. This is one of thereasons why biosafety is important for environmental sustainability and biodiversityconservation.

We understand the National Biosafety Regulatory Committee is within theMalawi Environment Protection Authority. What is the relevance of having thiswithin MEPA's rank and file?

MEPA is regulatory body that is mandated by the Environment Management Act(2017) to ensure that the environment is protected through among others regulatingdevelopment initiatives and enforcing environmental standard that aim at promotingsustainable development and environmental sustainability.

Biosafety being a regulatory function, it is well placed in MEPA’s structure. Furthermore, theEnvironment Management Act of 2017 under section 69 (g) stipulates that the authority shall, in consultation with relevant lead agencies, prescribe measures and issue guidelines to promote the conservation of biological resources in situ in relation to; safe handling, transfer and use of Living Modified Organisms (LMOs) developedthrough modern biotechnology that may have adverse impact on biodiversity, humanhealth and the environment.

For this reason, a committee of experts like NBRC isrelevant in MEPA to regulate LMOs developed through modern biotechnology.Issues involving Biosafety are technically challenging for non-experts. Whatare doing to ensure you raise the much-needed awareness to the public tounderstand these issues to curb the spread unverified news.

Indeed, a lot of the terms used in biosafety are technical and need to be simplified toensure that non-scientists can easily understand. The country has developed aNational Biosafety Communication Strategy that guides biosafety communication atvarious levels, different messages have been developed for different targetaudiences using different communication channels such as radio, TV, social mediaand awareness campaigns.

Messages targeting the general public will be translatedinto vernacular to reach out to all. We are hoping that through this communicatedstrategy the issues revolving around biotechnology will be disseminated toMalawians, for non - scientists to understood.

There have been concerns on issues related to Genetically ModifiedOrganisms that they might have a bearing on crops health, human life and theenvironment at large. What are you doing to clarify misconceptions and fearsarising from the same?

As earlier alluded to, MEPA plus other key strategic partners such as the Associationof Environment Journalists are working together in this course. There are alreadyplans to create more awareness on the processes that are taken before GMO’s arereleased in the environment or used as food or feed.

Rigorous assessments aredone to ensure that GMOs are safe for the environment and that they don’t pose anyrisk to human health before being approved for general release into the environment.

This is the whole essence of biosafety. It takes National Biosafety RegulatoryCommittee which is a team of experts from various sectors including Health,Consumers Association of Malawi, Malawi Bureau of Standard, Police, Justice andNutrition and HIV/AIDS among others to review and analyze the safety of any GMObefore it is released for commercialization.

AUDA-NEPAD was capacitating the NBRC as a combined oversight team ofexperts on stack traits at national level? How important is this to MEPA?Modern biotechnology is globally being adopted as one of the most effective tools inaddressing most of the challenges in the sectors of agriculture and health. Inagriculture modern biotechnology has been employed to develop pest/diseaseresistant varieties while in health biotechnology is used in developing vaccines. With

stack trait breeding scientists are able to combine more than one GM traits in oneplant to address multiple challenges at once. Stack breeding can develop a cropwhich is disease resistant and drought tolerant simultaneously. With stack breedingas one of the emerging technologies, the country must be ready to handle anyupcoming application hence the importance of having regulators trained.What are your final words in as far as Biosafety issues are concerned inMalawi?

Finally, I wish to inform the general public that Government through MEPA iscommitted in ensuring that no technology or product of biotechnology is adoptedunless proven safe for human health, biodiversity and the environment. Decisions forapproval of GMOs are informed by science and case by case risk assessmentresults. Secondly the review process for applications for conducting activities relatedto GMO’s is transparent and open for public participation.

Source:AUDA-NEPAD

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