The East African Legislative Assembly (EALA)’s Committee on Agriculture, Tourism and Natural Resources is carrying out a week-long exercise to assess policies and laws on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) within the East African Community (EAC)’s Partner States. According to the Committee, the main objective of this activity is to assess policies and laws of Partner States on GMO and to make appropriate recommendations to the Council of Ministers on this matter. The assessment commenced on February 4 and runs through February 9, according to a statement from the regional parliament. In Rwanda, it is being held in Kigali on February 8. ALSO READ: Rwanda Parliament passes bill governing GMOs On methodology, the Committee is interacting with stakeholders through meetings to be held in capitals of the EAC Partner States. Stakeholders from both public and private sector will be invited to engage with the Committee. GMOs such as crops are those which have gene(s) inserted from the same or unrelated organism using genetic engineering methods, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). These genes, FAO says, confer beneficial traits such as pest resistance, ability to grow in extreme and unfavourable conditions and increased nutrient levels among others. In a concept note, the Committee indicated that one of the method to increase food production in the EAC is the use of available technology that will result in higher farm yields. It added that GMOs or agricultural biotechnology is one of the technologies being used to increase food production in the world. It observed that the oversight activity is in line with the East Africa Treaty on Cooperation in Agriculture and Rural Development’s aims of achieving food security and rationalising agricultural production across EAC. Following the need to have food security in the EAC as provided by the Treaty on one hand, and the ongoing global debate with regard to GMOs on the other, it indicated, the Committee decided to assess policies and laws of the EAC Partner States with regard such organisms, with the aim of making an informed decision on their use in the region. The Chairperson of the Committee on Agriculture, Tourism and Natural Resources of EALA, Françoise Uwumukiza, told the New Times that EAC must rise to the challenge to get adequate, nutritious and safe food to feed its growing population amid a situation where agricultural land is being encroached by projects such as construction, as well as reduced soil fertility partly attributed to climate change effects. Access to adequate, nutritious and safe food, she said, can help the region to address the issue of malnutrition among its population, including stunting affecting some of its children. As per the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2023 report by FAO, 282 million people in Africa were undernourished — up from 278 million people in 2021 — while 30 per cent of the continent’s children (or about 63 million children) were stunted as of 2022. “Because of the issues of climate change we are faced with, you realise that food security is becoming a challenge in general. There is climate change yet farmers are unable to get seeds that are resistant to all these changes,” Uwumukiza said, pointing out that there are researchers or scientists who are – through genetic modification or engineering – developing seeds or crops with enhanced traits in order to tackle clime change effects, and soil fertility changes. ALSO READ: Expert gives insights on GMO potential, adoption in Africa Uwumukiza said that as lawmakers, they want to understand the position of EAC Partner States regarding GMO adoption by analysing their policies and laws and help the region make a well-informed decision in line with food security achievement. Aspects under consideration The assessments will cover the general situation of food production in each Partner State, the policy of the partner state on GMOs, the research undertaken in the partner states on GMOs, the laws and regulations of the Partner States on such organisms or crops; and the need for GMO food products in the partner states. Other aspects it is considering are the contribution of GMO food products in the Partner States (if allowed), companies registered in the Partner States dealing with GMOs; how such food products are managed/controlled in the Partner States; opinion on whether EAC Partner States should harmonise their policies and laws on GMOs, and what EAC should do about them. Way forward As per the concept note, EALA will discuss the assessment findings and make appropriate recommendations to the EAC Council of Ministers – the central decision-making and governing Organ of the EAC – with regards to GMOs and the action that should be taken by EAC and EAC Partner States.