Zanu-PF is moving closer to embracing biotechnology to increase food production in the country, with the ruling party coming out in its support as a tool to fight hunger and poverty.
The party’s secretary of science and technology Professor Jonathan Moyo told delegates at the just-ended Zanu PF’s 15th Annual People’s Conference that a tissue culture project by the National Biotechnology Authority of Zimbabwe (NBA) involving the production of virus-free seedlings for root and tuber crops was now operational.
This affirmed the party’s willingness to push for the use of biotechnology to boost food production and enhance the country’s food security.
Biotechnology experts said Prof Moyo’s presentation also demonstrated the party’s commitment to developing science and technology to address myriad of agricultural related challenges including hunger, increasing population, and declining food production.
“This is a positive sign for the embracing of biotechnology by our farmers,” said a biotechnology expert who declined to be named.
“This also affirms the ruling party’s commitment to get farmers to use benefits of science and biotechnology to deal with the problems of hunger and poverty. Zanu-PF is in this way helping to demystify scientific and technological knowledge for farmers in our country so that this knowledge can be applied to ensure food security.”
Zanu-PF held its annual party conference from December 7-13 in Victoria Falls under the theme: “Consolidating People’s Power Through Zim-Asset”.
The party hammered out resolutions geared towards improving the quality of life for Zimbabweans as well as socio-economic transformation.
Zanu-PF has over the years said there was a need to educate farmers on ways through which to improve their farming methods and practices by leveraging on new technologies.
The agriculture sector is the backbone of the Zimbabwean economy, contributing to 15‐20 percent of GDP.
Over the past decade there has been increased food and nutrition insecurity at the household and national levels, emanating from reduced productivity and production of the main crops, expert say.
The NBA and the Horticultural Research Institute in Marondera were involved in tissue culture development for sweet potatoes, potatoes and cassava crops.
Researchers were applying biotechnology using meristem tip culture to boost sweet potato production by eliminating the threats of viral infections and pest infestations.
Each year, smallholder farmers in Zimbabwe lose up to 90 percent of their sweet potato crop to pests and diseases.
Farmers using virus-free sweet potatoes getting 20-40 tonnes per hectare depending on water availability and management.
Biotechnology experts say this demonstrated the potential biotechnology holds for farmers who are keen to boost their yields.
Even though, Zimbabwe now recognises the role of biotechnology in improving food production and in the medical sector, public misconceptions on genetically modified organisms (GMO) as well as a ban on GMO products and seed has stifled the growth of the sector in the country.
Dr Jonathan Mufandaedza, head of NBA, says there is generally a high awareness level on biotechnology but says “It’s not indicative of the level of knowledge which is generally low.”
He said a ‘Public Perception Towards Transgenic Crops and Genetically Modified Foods in Zimbabwe’ study carried out by the NBA showed that the pubic especially women think GMOs are associated with cancer, allergies, obesity and some other unknown side effects.
In addition, he said a ‘Commercialisation of BT ‐ cotton In Zimbabwe: A Risk ‐ benefit Perception Analysis’ study conducted by the NBA revealed that some stakeholders feared pesticide resistance and cross pollinating of wild relatives and GM crop varieties.
Biotechnology experts argue for the lifting of the ban on GMOs in Zimbabwe saying it was not feasible to produce enough food to ensure food security using traditional methods.
The debate on use of GMOs continues to rage with some resistance, particularly from the civil society, which argues that such food has not been certified as fit for human consumption.
“We are not saying that GMOs should not be adopted, but for now, this should be on non-food crops like cotton,” said a Harare-based biotechnology expert. “GMOs alone cannot end food insecurity but we should use it as a tool improve food production and to enhance the livelihoods of our farmers facing numerous problems related to costs, pests and output levels.”
Prof Moyo also told the ruling party conference about the establishment of additional biosafety sub offices for control of harmful products at Kazungula, Harare International Airport, Nyamapanda and Victoria Falls.
This brings to eight, the total number of biosafety offices set up at the country’s ports of entry and exit.
Biotechnology experts urge farmers to ignore claims against GMOs, saying that there was no tangible evidence to prove its threat to humans.
They say the presence of biosafety regulations will help ensure the usage of the biotech seeds was done correctly and in accordance with the law.
They say biotechnology should be given a chance to revolutionise agriculture and help farmers move with modern trends.
Experts also note that Zimbabwe needs a vigorous education campaign on GMO, plant breeding and biosafety issues to clear misconceptions in the minds of the people and also enable the general public to understand issues.
In October, this year, Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development Minister, Prof Jonathan Moyo said the country’s five-year economic blue print, the Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-economic Transformation (ZimAsset), needs to integrate biosafety and biotechnology mechanism to improve the quality of life for the people and spur the desired economic growth levels.
Speaking at a one-day consultative workshop on the Third National Report on The Implementation of The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety in Harare, he said issues concerning biosafety and biotechnology must be integrated to drive ZimAsset forward.
“Issues concerning biosafety and biotechnology must be integrated in driving the ZimAsset,” he said. “ZimAsset speaks to the need to achieve sustainable development and social equality anchored on indigenisation, empowerment and employment creation.
“It empowers people to attain household food and nutritional security because every citizen has a right to a healthy and safe quality life.”
The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) was adopted by the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on 29 January 2000.