Ethiopia moving forward with biotechnology

Ethiopia could start plantation for experimental purpose, the much controversial Bt Cotton next year, Capital learned.

According to Endale Gebre (PhD), Director of the Biotechnology Research Directorate at the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research, preparations are underway to build the capacity of a center located in Holleta, Oromia State, to be able to carry out studies and researches on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).

“We are building our capacity to be able to work with GMOs. We’re left with a few more steps to be fully operational. We have not brought in GMOs yet, but we’re working with other countries and institutions that have extensive experience with GMOs and they are training our people. We believe that within the next 6 months to a year time, we’ll have the required capacity and will start work,” Endale told Capital.

Cultivating BT Cotton is one of the interests of the government. “We do have priorities regarding what kind of GMOs we want to work with at the beginning. For example, we want to work with BT Cotton.  Cotton production in our country is permeated with lots of challenges and production is low. There are GMO cotton seeds that gave good yield in different parts of the world. We want to bring those seeds, study them and experiment with them. But before that, we’ve to work on the necessary steps,” Endale said.

BT Cotton is a genetically modified variety of cotton that produces an insecticide. This specific modified seed type is produced by Monsanto, an American multinational agrochemical and agricultural biotechnology corporation.

A few months ago, the draft of the revised Bio-safety Law was presented to parliament and was approved. The revised version of the law makes it possible for GMOs to enter Ethiopia under loosened criteria.

“Looking at it in a general way, one of the benefits of the revised Bio-safety Law is that it gives the country the opportunity to build its capacity in order to benefit from biotechnology in a full way. The unrevised law was a bit restrictive and made it difficult for work to be carried out with the technology or for capacity building to utilize the technology,” said Endale.

He further stated that the revised law brings with it an opportunity that enables carrying out scientific researches and studies which can facilitate the production of goods that are beneficial to the country.

“In the previous Bio-safety Law, the criteria that were put in place for bringing in GMOs into the country for study were very difficult to fulfill; now it is more accommodating and we’re able to fulfill them,” Endale said. He underlined that, even though the criteria was loosened, nothing has been changed in the regulatory and precautionary sections of the law.

The biotechnology sector in Ethiopia is getting a lot of attention and support from the government and was apportioned a budget of 100 million birr for the current year. “We have come a long way with the technology; we have been doing a lot of good work with really good outcomes. One of the areas we utilize this technology for is in cattle breeding for meat or milk. We work to get improved breeds. The results have been good, but we do need a significant amount of budget to duplicate the techniques nationwide,” Endale explained.

 

The aim of the experimentation is to work towards capacitating Ethiopia in the biotechnology sector so that it becomes competitive with other developing countries across the world who are working in the same filedn

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