Biosafety Capacity Building Needs Assessment in Zimbabwe

AUDA-NEPAD ABNE carried out a mission to assess the status of biosafety in Zimbabwe, from 15-16 August, 2019 in Harare. The mission was led by Dr. Tinga Jeremy Ouedraogo, Director of ABNE, accompanied by Dr. Woldeyesus Sinebo, ABNE Senior Programme Officer. This mission is a follow-up of an official request from the National Biotechnology Authority (NBA) of Zimbabwe for technical support from AUDA-NEPAD to explore, introduce and adopt modern biotechnology in order to enhance agricultural productivity, encourage biotech-based business development and stimulate sustainable socio-economic development in the country.

ABNE delegation with Parliamentary Portfolio Committee for Higher & Tertiary Education, Science & Technology (HTESTD); representative of the Ministry of HTESTD; Board Chairperson of NBA; CEO & Registrar of NBA; and staff of NBA.

The mission started with a meeting with NBA representatives to understand NBA’s mandate, vision, mission, organizational structure, current state of things and future expectations and to look into the National Biosafety Framework. A meeting was also held with delegates of Parliamentary Portfolio Committee for Higher & Tertiary Education, Science, Technology and Development (HTESTD). The Director of ABNE made shared information on the mandate of the institution, which was followed by discussions. The Parliamentary Committee after raising a few questions appreciated the initiative by AUDA-NEPAD/ABNE and made a plea for ABNE to deepen its engagement in Zimbabwe and to increase its visibility in the country. The Parliamentarians assured their support to ABNE to make ABNE’s intervention in Zimbabwe effective.
ABNE team also met with government officials from the Department of Research and Specialist Services (DR & SS) under the Ministry of Agriculture, Mechanization & Irrigation Development; officials from the Ministry of Environment, Tourism & Hospitality Industry; and the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of HTESTD. Topics discussed during these meetings included previous experiences of Zimbabwe with GM crop testing, the existing legal framework and political dispensation that could allow the introduction and trialing of GM crops under close monitoring and confinement in the country and the importance of engaging stakeholders including civil society to sensitize and create awareness on biotechnology and its regulation. The team also visited the GMO detection laboratory at the NBA premises, furnished with modern equipment acquired through funds from EU-SPS project.

The Director of ABNE making a presentation to Parliamentary Portfolio Committee for HTESTD; representative of the Ministry of HTESTD; Board Chairperson of NBA; CEO & Registrar of NBA; and staff of NBA

This mission was an opportunity to have a close look into the biosafety system in Zimbabwe. The country has a biosafety framework that includes the National Biotechnology Authority Act of 2006 that provides a legal framework for application handling and decision making, and the NBA authorized and staffed to administer the day-to-day handling of biosafety matters. Zimbabwe has been a party to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (CPB) since 2005. The NBA serves as the Competent National Authority and the National Focal Point for CPB in Zimbabwe. The NBA has a board that gives an overall oversight, control and direction for the NBA. The Board is appointed by the Minster of HTESTD in consultation with the Head of State, the President.
The NBA Act confers mandates on the Board and the NBA on matters of biotechnology development and regulation including authorization of GMO activities and issuance of guidelines and standards for GMO undertakings. The overall policy direction on modern biotechnology is given to the Board by the Minister of HTESTD.
A brief examination of the National Biotechnology Authority Act (Chapter 14:31) indicated that the Act is comprehensive detailing the responsibility of the NBA Board, the CEO, and the Committees. The Act also provides for the establishment of Institutional Biosafety Committees chaired by Biosafety Officer in institutions that conduct biotechnological activities. Examining the contents of the Act, as also noted by the NBA, it was acknowledged that a number of guidelines including guidelines for the conduct of confined field trials (CFTs) and general release may need to be produced at a future date in a manner that ensures the co-evolution of technology development with the availing of the required regulatory tools.
In a concluding meeting, ABNE delegates and the staff of the NBA identified and prioritized needs, and planned interventions for the remaining part of the year in order to enhance the functionality of biosafety regulatory system in Zimbabwe. In line with its mandate, AUDA-NEPAD ABNE will continue to provide the necessary technical support to Zimbabwe to amplify the country’s effort towards building a workable biosafety regulatory system.