Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN)

Biotechnology at the crossroads in Malawi
Malawi Newsletter
October 2006
Charles Mataya and Marnus Gouse


SADC countries are engaging in modern agricultural biotechnology at a cautious and precautionary pace. This is caused partly by weaknesses in their internal biosafety policies and regulatory capacities, and partly by fear of losing international export markets if genetically modified (GM) crops are adopted or accepted.

Conversely, the cost of not adopting GM crops might be high in lost opportunities for the SADC countries. Impressive GM crop adoption rates in South Africa suggest that large- and small-scale African farmers can benefit from GM crops. The potential income gains associated with the first wave of technologies are significant.

In addition, countries with a moratorium on GM crop imports stand to lose out on much-needed emergency food aid from organisations like the World Food Programme (WFP).

Even countries opting to remain GM free for the time being, or to produce only for possible niche markets, need to develop a biosafety policy.

Failure by the SADC countries to engage in the development of a biosafety policy and regulatory framework is likely to increase biotechnology and trade divide in the region.

The Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) has been facilitating a project called Regional Approach to Biosafety for Southern African Countries (RABSAC). This project is supported by the United States Agency for International Development through the International Food Policy Research Institute's Programme for Biosafety Systems (PBS).

The RABSAC project is part of a number of initiatives supported by the PBS, with the overall objective of documenting a balanced review of the technical information needed to responsibly inform regional biosafety policy choices.

From March 2005 to September 2006, the RABSAC project focused on three SADC countries, namely Malawi, Mauritius and South Africa, because each presented a unique case study.

This newsletter highlights some of the main findings of the Malawi study.

  1. Charles Mataya is the Principal at the Polytechnic (University of Malawi) and Marnus Gouse is an Academic Staff Member at the University of Pretoria, South Africa, and a Regional Research Coordinator for the PBS Country Studies.

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