Speech: Partners and Stakeholders Coordination Meeting on Biosafety Capacity Development

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Speech Delivered by Anthony Muyepa, Director General of National Commission for Science and Technology on 17th March 2014 at Capital Hotel in Lilongwe during at the official opening of the “Partners and Stakeholders Coordination Meeting on Biosafety Capacity Development”

Salutations

Director of PBS, Dr Judy Chambers

Acting Director of ABNE, Dr Sinebo

John McMurdy. From USAID  Washington

Professor  Moses Kwapata, from LUANAR

Asst. Director & Africa Coordinator – PBS John Komen

Director of Emerging Markets Advocacy: Craig Richard

Programme Officer- ICGEB: Dennis Ndolo

All protocols Observed

Welcome remarks

It gives me great pleasure and honour to be with you this morning to officially open this Partners and Stakeholders’ Coordination Meeting on Biosafety Capacity Development in Africa, here in Malawi. Let me start by extending to you all, on behalf of the country and on my own behalf a very warm welcome to Malawi the warm heart of Africa. Those of you who have some spare time please feel free to see more of us and more natural endowments. I wish to thank organizers PBS/IFPRI,  ABNE, and CropLife International for  choosing Malawi to host this meeting .   It is my sincere hope that with the diversity of participants available here you will be able to come up with strategies on how  to better coordinate efforts among many stakeholders providing biotechnology and biosafety technical assistance services in African countries.

Distinguished guests ladies and gentlemen, You are probably aware, Malawi Government policy aims at eradicating poverty, hunger and disease as it focuses on fulfilling the Millennium Development Goals (MGDs). Efforts of the government to meet the MGDs continue to be challenged by

–          Erratic weather conditions,

–          Declining soil fertility

–          Poor quality seeds

–          High prevalence of some plant diseases

–          High input costs (fertilizer,  supplies)

MGDs have been further challenged by the climate change effects such as droughts and floods among others, which have negatively affected agriculture productivity in the country. The Government of Malawi is committed to ensure food security in the country.

 

To address these challenges the Government of Malawi is examining a basket of technologies including agricultural biotechnology to ensure food security in the country.

Agricultural Biotechnology has potential to offer some solutions in management of these problems. This as you all know has been acknowledged across the world and is a shining example among most African countries that with political will, the use of agricultural technology, and working in partnership with the agricultural industry, it is possible to increase agriculture productivity in any country.

 

Malawi has made significant steps in order to adopt modern biotechnology. It has put in place the necessary legal and policy instruments to guide development and use of modern biotechnology. In 2002, parliament enacted the Biosafety Bill, this was followed by the Biosafety Regulations of 2007. The National Biotechnology Biosafety Policy was approved by cabinet in 2008. The policy and the Act provide a framework for effective implementation of biotechnology programmes and activities in line with the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy.

I would like to highlight cotton as a GM product currently under trials in Malawi. Cotton is considered as a strategic crop and promotion of cotton is part of the country’s poverty reduction strategy. The narrow export base and heavy reliance on tobacco make the economy fragile in the face of precarious weather conditions and tobacco commodity prices and anti-smoking campaigns. Current cotton production levels can be significantly improved through  the use of biotech cotton. In Burkina Faso, for instance, farmers have improved average yields by 30% and farm-level income by $61 per hectare.  Increasing cotton production is also an issue of strategic importance affecting the ability of African countries, such as Malawi, to take advantage of the favorable trade provisions for textiles under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), as cotton production is often a limiting factor in the value chain for African textile production, requiring the importation of cotton from Asia and use of foreign exchange.  This is certainly the case in Malawi.

 

Coming from an Organization that champions science and technology, I am encouraged to note that some of our Universities and Research Institutes are making positive steps towards embarking in modern biotechnology research and soon, the country has already conducted  Bt cotton confined field trials at Bunda College through public-private partnerships. Encouraged by promising results stakeholders have requested Bunda College to extend the trials to cotton producing areas in Salima, Balaka, Zomba and Chikhwawa. This step brings in new challenges which will require new interventions regarding capacity building in both Biosafety regulatory processes and outreach programmes. No doubt this will require concerted efforts and collaboration not only between Malawi and collaborating partners but also among collaborating partners themselves. This is where forums like your meeting today become useful platforms to map the way forward and define an efficient division of labour.

Though the biosafety regulatory system in Malawi has had some success, it has experienced a fair share of challenges ranging from mere lack of cooperation by technical institutions to low overall technical capacity of the regulatory system. Many of these issues have been ironed out through partners support to biosafety capacity development. These challenges highlight the importance of cooperation among all stakeholders in order to establish biosafety standards and advance technology adoption.

This two day meeting, I am confident, will bring to light the many areas that need interventions and the need to coordinate efforts among all players to ensure that our efforts and resources are to the best use in order to achieve mutual good. I am sure that your collective strength will help to resolve your individual weaknesses, I here take this opportunity to make a call for increased investment in training both researchers and regulators at both local and international levels to continue pursuing research in the field of biosafety and regulatory affairs so that our region can achieve nutrition, food and energy security.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The fields of biotechnology and biosafety are a wide and complex one, and touches on issues as diverse as national and international law, trans-boundary agreements, trade, communication strategies to name a few. Both national and international responsibilities are involved, and it’s comforting to know that through meetings like this one today, efforts are garnered to communicate and take on these responsibilities. I look forward to you using this platform to apply your skills and resources to strengthen the different sectors that need to maintain their importance in each of our countries. I wish you a fruitful workshop and networking.

Let me use this opportunity to thank our collaborating partners, PBS/IFPRI, USAID, ABNE, ISAAA, US State Department, Africabio  and many others who have provided financial and technical help to Malawi in the past few years. Without your help Malawi would not have made the small but significant steps towards adoption of biotechnology. We are indeed grateful.

With these few remarks I wish to declare the Partners Meeting open.

Thank you for your attention.

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