GMO research ‘not banned’ in Tanzania, official confirms

By Mark Lynas

July 1, 2019

A top public sector biotech official in Tanzania has confirmed that research using genetic engineering is not banned in the country, and that work on GMO maize and cassava is continuing as normal.

Speaking at a conference in Dar es Salaam, Dr. Fred Tairo, principal agricultural research officer at the Mikocheni Agricultural Research Institute in Tanzania, stated that on behalf of the administration he wished to “clear the doubt which has been going around” about GMO research in the country.

“As a public institution, we have the full support of the government, and the government has not changed its stand on GMO research. So that was a miscommunication,” he continued, referencing newspaper reports to the contrary last fall, “but the stand of the government is still embracing the research.”

In November 2018 several Tanzanian newspapers reported on, in the words of the Citizen, “the government’s surprise ban on all genetically modified organism (GMO) trials in the country.”

While the scientific community was reportedly aghast, anti-GMO groups were jubilant, with Friends of the Earth tweeting “Huge win! Tanzania just banned all GMO trials.”

However, the source of the claim was never clear, with most reports tracing back to a Swahili-language blogpost purportedly quoting the permanent secretary at the ministry of agriculture.

Moreover, research in the fields has continued uninterrupted, with drought-tolerant maize trials then ongoing at Makutupora Research Centre in Dodoma concluding successfully. The incorrect news reports had claimed the government had ordered the Tanzania Agriculture Research Institute (Tari) to destroy all the trials.

Tairo also confirmed that the drought-tolerant maize, which includes the insect resistance Bt gene, showed promise in tackling the infestation of fall armyworm, which is devastating maize crops throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

Other GM research in Tanzania offers promise in tackling cassava diseases such as brown streak virus, which threaten to undermine food security in a country which still suffers high rates of malnutrition.