Zimbabwe is taking steps to finalise the Zimbabwe Genome Editing Communication and Advocacy Strategy and action plan to promote better understanding of new and emerging technologies in the country.
The National Biotechnology Authority and SIRDC with support from the African Union Development Agency (AUDA-NEPAD) are holding a week long workshop to validate the gene editing communication strategy which was developed in May this year.
National University of Science and Technology’s Applied Genetics Testing Centre (AGTC) director Mr Zephaniah Dlamini said because of the promising benefits of gene editing in transforming agriculture, food, and medicine, it is imperative that communication about this technology must be dealt with cautiously, based on facts to allay any fears about new technologies.
He said the Zimbabwe Genome Editing Communication and Advocacy Strategy must focus on what resonates better to the public and minimize the voice of the opposition to new technologies which are beneficial to the country.
Gene editing technology allows scientists to edit any gene they target, enabling them to find and change or replace genetic defects.
Gene editing science and technology is in its early stages in Zimbabwe and most African countries and the potential of this technology is still to be harnessed.
“Researchers often struggle to identify how to communicate messages about gene editing that will resonate best with the public,” said Dlamini, who was also the chairman of NBA.
“This communication strategy will help us to bridge communication gaps to better inform the public about the benefits of gene editing.”
The meeting has brought together policy makers, regulatory authorities, academia, innovators, religious leaders, media, private sector and communications experts to validate the strategy.
Dlamini also stressed that the new traits employed to crops through gene editing are more consumer-centric, making it easier for consumers to appreciate their benefits. Furthermore, he said, some gene editing crops do not contain a foreign DNA, making them non-GMO.
With these breakthroughs and improved strategies in communication, gene-edited products could be more acceptable to consumers, he said.
Genome editing has already been successfully used with agricultural organisms of commercial importance, such as agricultural crops and farm animal husbandry, improving the efficiency of plant and animal breeding.
This has offered the possibility of new methods for the control of pests and diseases. The rapidly growing use of genome editing has policy implications and instigates human health and environmental safety considerations, which must be articulated to the public.
NDS1 recognises the critical role of science, technology and innovation in driving economic growth, social development and environmental sustainability.
The strategy recognises that science, technology and innovation can help to enhance productivity, competitiveness and innovation in various sectora of the economy.
The country’s 2nd Science and Technology Policy of 2012 also recognises the potential of biotechnology to contribute to the country’s social and economic development.
“Zimbabwe does not want to be the importer of technologies, not when we have such great potential and capacity to harness the technologies and develop local products from these technologies,” said Prof Norman Rudhumbu, a senior official in the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, Innovation, Science and Technology Development.
“We want to maintain seed sovereignty by ensuring that we use technologies to improve crop and animal breeds.”
In line with Zimbabwe’s drive towards achieving Vision 2030 and Agenda 2063, the government has set up innovation hubs at various institutions under Education 5.0 programme.
Researchers are harnessing new technologies to come up with products that can enhance efficiency in the agricultural sector.