Concerns of bioterror in Africa raised

Concerns have been raised about potential abuses by scientists of the emerging biotechnology industry in Africa, which is being used to increase agricultural production.

“These weapons could deprive crops of water or nutrients resulting in poor yields and eventually down play efforts aimed at marketing the products globally,” John Opuda-Asibo, the first deputy vice chancellor of Kyambogo University in Uganda, told The East African.

“We are not getting any extra land yet we need to increase food production by up to 300 percent by 2050," Diran Makinde, the director of Nepad Planning and Co-ordination Agency, told The East African. "We can only do this through the use of biotechnology,."

Sub-Saharan Africa is believed to face the biggest risk of bioterrorism as it's weak plant and animal epidemiological infrastructure lacks biosafety laws.

“We need to combat the use of biotechnology as a weapon. That calls for bioterrorism preparedness,” Prof. Opuda-Asibo said.Only 12 African countries currently have national biosafety laws. Several African countries maintain biosafety policies and 30 do not have any sort of safety practices at all.

Scientists have called on the African Union for a set of biosafety laws for the East African Community, which currently has only a biosafety group.

“We should have a legal framework for government to intervene if bioterrorism occurs. It is important that we close the gaps in scientific discoveries,” Prof Opuda-Asibo said.