Africa is faced with the challenge of demand for regulatory services which outstrips resources available whilst the political landscape also posed a serious challenge.
Biosafety regulatory systems are essential in realising the benefits of safe applications of modern biotechnology, Mr Samuel Timpo, Deputy Director of AU-NEPAD African Biosafety Network of Expertise (ABNE) said on Monday.
Speaking at a week's study tour for African Biosafety regulators, in Pretoria in South Africa, Mr Timpo said biosafety laws were critical for every functional regulatory system but most African countries that signed up to the Cartegena Protocol had not established regulatory systems.
"The absence of biosafety regulations, limited capacity and lack of access to accurate information, have been identified as the critical
limitations to the growth of biotechnology", Mr Timpo said.
The study tour is being sponsored by the AU-NEPAD African Biosafety Network of Expertise and facilitated by African Bio, a non-governmental organisation on biotechnology.
It is attended by biosafety regulators from Ghana, Nigeria, Mali, Burkina Faso, Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania, Somalia and Zimbabwe.
The tour is to promote the sharing of knowledge and experience between regulators from countries with new and emerging biosafety systems on one hand and industry practitioners in countries that are conducting field trials and have commercialising biotech crops.
In addition, it would create a network of regulators and practitioners to facilitate cross-learning and the sharing of lessons in future.
Mr Timpo noted that laws and institutions assisted in achieving acceptable and conflicting interest and that the AU-NEPAD High Level African Panel on modern biotechnology had recommended that biotechnology and biosafety should be co-evolved so that the technology and regulations would help promote innovations.
Mr Timpo called for concerted efforts in biosafety capacity building and sustained collaborative relationships and the need to sustain collaborative relationships to move the agenda forward.
Dr Dave Keetch, Official of Africa Bio said millions of farmers around the world continued to accept and cultivate Genetically Modified Crops (GM) and 2009 alone recorded 14 million farmers planting 134 million hectares in 25 countries.
Out this figure, 13 million were small and resource-poor farmers from developing countries.
GM crops mainly grown include maize, soyabean, cotton, canola, papaya, squash, and sweet pepper whilst GM soyabean continued to be most important crop of the global GM crop area followed by maize, cotton and canola.
Dr Keetch listed some of the benefits of GM crops as increase crop productivity, conserves biodiversity, promotes self-sufficiency, reduces environmental footprint of agriculture, increase stability of production, provide economic, health and social benefits and mitigate against some of the challenges of climate change.
He said trends of events predicted that 20 million farmers would be planting 200 million hectares of GM crops in 40 countries by 2015 whilst GM rice and drought-tolerant trait would also drive the future adoption of the technology.
Dr Keetch noted that African agriculture was currently at crossroads where persistent food shortages were compounded by new threats from climate change and Africa had three opportunities that had the potential to transform its agriculture into a force for economic growth.
These, he listed as advances in science and technology, the creation of regional markets and the emergency of new leaders dedicated to the continent's economic improvement.
Dr Keetch urged African leaders to embrace the idea of biotechnology as one of the tools that would improve and turn round agriculture in Africa for the better.