Advancing Legal and Policy Measures for Genetically Modified Organisms in Africa: 5th ASSELLAU Scientific Conference
The 5th Association of Environmental Law Lecturers in African Universities (ASSELLAU) Scientific Conference and General Assembly was hosted in Kenya from August 20th to 23rd, 2023. Spanning three days, the conference focused on exploring the legal and policy dimensions of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in Africa.
The event was inaugurated by Prof Justus Munyoki, the Director of Research and Enterprise representing Ag. Vice Chancellor Prof Julius Ogeng’o. He noted that for academics and policy actors in Africa, the discussion on legal and policy measures on GMOs is timely. In October 2022, Kenya relaxed a 10-year ban on growing and importing genetically modified (GM) crops. Currently, there is a serious threat to both the long-term viability of our food systems and the food security of our population. Numerous factors contribute to these challenges, including the effects of climate change, worsening soils and land degradation, changing land uses, and growing populations, he said.
Prof. Munyoki further added that a lot of African nations experience drought, pests that attack crops, and illnesses. Stem borers, for instance, cause Kenya to lose 400,000 tons of corn every year. Because it guarantees high levels of protection for the environment, the health of people and animals, and both, GMO regulation is crucial.
According to the National Biosafety Authority (NBA), Kenya has so far approved 58 GMO projects, of which 40 are for restricted usage in a lab or greenhouse, 15 are for restricted field tests, and three are for environmental release or commercial cultivation. Local lobby organizations opposed to the lifting of the prohibition, moved to court and obtained an injunction, preventing the decision's execution.
During the conference, Prof. Collins Odote, Chair of ASSELLAU, highlighted that only a handful of African countries have established laws regulating GMOs, despite many having approved genetically modified crops. This discrepancy prompted questions about the reasons behind this disparity and what effective regulations should entail.
Prof. Odote emphasized that African nations are grappling with climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution, and genetic technologies offer potential solutions. However, concerns regarding environmental and health impacts persist.
On her part, Prof. Patricia Kameri-Mbote, Director of the Law Division at UNEP, stressed the growing importance of discussions at the intersection of law, science, and technology. She noted a lack of understanding among legal professionals in comprehending scientific intricacies, impacting decisions in GMO-related cases.
Emmanuel Kasimbazi, a law professor from Uganda's Makerere University, discussed the role of environmental law in governing GMO development. He outlined challenges related to safety, intellectual property, trade, and biodiversity. He also called for enhanced collaboration among environmental scientists, policymakers, and various stakeholders.
Kenya's robust regulatory framework for GMOs was highlighted, encompassing policies, acts, and regulations. Collaboration between scientists and regulatory bodies was emphasized for successful GMO integration.
The conference, organized by ASSELLAU in collaboration with UNEP and the Alliance for Science, brought together representatives from multiple African countries to delve into these critical issues at the nexus of law, science, and environmental sustainability.