The scrutiny, debate and controversy around the potential contributions of modern biotechnology to agricultural development and sustainability are even more palpable in Africa, where it is hypothesised that modern agri-biotechnology could provide solutions to many agriculture-related constraints. These constraints include:
- declining agricultural productivity,
- increasing food insecurity,
- the erosion of long-standing agricultural trade preferences, and
- the increasing cost of agricultural production.
African countries therefore face a serious dilemma: whether to accept such technologies or not, and if they do, how to maximise the associated benefits and minimise the risks. The mix of potential benefits includes:
- reduction in the need for insecticides and labour,
- lower environmental pollution,
- reduction in human exposure to chemicals,
- increase in insect-control efficiency,
- increase in farm level incomes.
In order to take an informed decision, and make the most of the potential benefits, African governments need to be aware of the issues surrounding agri-biotechnology, specifically those related to biosafety policies. This need for awareness, information and regulatory structures is also felt by the Southern African Development Community (SADC). It therefore requested the involvement of the Food and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) in its striving towards a regional approach to biotechnology policy in southern Africa.
FANRPAN initiated a project to assess whether Mauritius has biosafety structures in place that will enable the country to fully benefit from the rewards that biotechnology and, more specifically, genetic engineering can potentially bring to agriculture, trade and food security.
In Phase I of the project, key stakeholders' perceptions of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) were surveyed and the biosafety structure in Mauritius was assessed. Phase II of the project evaluated the import policies and the agricultural production systems of three crops, and whether they would favour or hamper the import and production of such GM crops and related products in Mauritius.