The COMESA policy that has come a long way includes the decision on whether countries will adopt genetically modified products of which, will be complimentary to national policies, concurred Belay.
Indicating the development of policies, the idea of the regional policy was implemented back in 2002 during a drought that affected southern Africa, in which foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) were given as aid from the international community. On the other hand, Malawi enacted a biotechnology law in 2002 in which the policy was put in place in 2007, while Swaziland implemented a similar protocol in 2011. While in Kenya, the KICC recently had university and college students showcase the benefits and advancement of biotechnology the same year.
Other regional blocs that have developed joint GMO guidelines include the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC).
Thus, it was noted that the COMESA Ministers of Agriculture needed to tackle the GMO issue at a regional level, as capacity at individual level was not sufficient.
While reports say that countries such as Kenya, Uganda, Sudan and Egypt are advancing in the adoption of biostechnology, the 2014 COMESA policy is expected to provide the framework for capacity assistance to member states that are less developed in the biotechnology aspects.
Belay noted that application of GMO technology is both resource and knowledge demanding of which, the policy would help accelerate the development of a knowledge and information hub that would discuss emerging issues. He added that a unified GMO regime will also help spur agricultural commodities trade in the region and ensure that all member states have a predetermined position on adoption of GMO.
Currently, at least two member states have commercialized transgenic crops. Belay said that the Heads of State are expected to endorse regional policy of which would ensure that countries with limited recourses can implement international biosafety standards.
He noted that the policy will also establish a regional panel of experts on GMOs on scientific risk assessment offer recommendations to national governments on potential safety risks. There are confined field trials in Kenya, Uganda and Swaziland.
According to Belay, countries will have access to data generated from GMO research in the trading bloc as partner states would conduct adaptation trials to ensure that the products meet local needs. However, adaptation trials could take a period of time to be approved. While adaption trials last between three to five years, it takes 10 years for the development and approval of a GMO product, reports say.
In all, it was noted that while biosafety transcends international boundaries, a harmonized regime could enhance regional cooperation in agriculture, science and technology.