INDEPENDENT NEWS

Cablegate: Ethiopia: Biotechnology Workshop Generates Debate, Goe

Published: Tue 9 Feb 2010 06:30 AM
VZCZCXRO9420
PP RUEHBZ RUEHDU RUEHGI RUEHJO RUEHMA RUEHMR RUEHPA RUEHRN RUEHTRO
DE RUEHDS #0251/01 0400630
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 090630Z FEB 10
FM AMEMBASSY ADDIS ABABA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7679
INFO RUEHZO/AFRICAN UNION COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 ADDIS ABABA 000251
SENSITIVE
SIPDIS
DEPT EEB/TPP/MTAA/ABT FOR MARCELLA SZYMANSKI AND JACK BOBO
PASS TO USAID FOR SAHARAH MOON CHAPOTIN
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EAGR TBIO ECON ETRD ET
SUBJECT: ETHIOPIA: BIOTECHNOLOGY WORKSHOP GENERATES DEBATE, GOE
SENDS MIXED SIGNALS
REF: 09 ADDIS ABABA 2065
SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED. NOT FOR INTERNET DISTRIBUTION.
Summary
-------
1. (SBU) The Ethiopian Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development
(MoARD) held a "National Workshop on Biotechnology" with support
from the U.S. Mission from February 1-3, 2010 in Addis Ababa. The
event was well-attended, and generated healthy debate on the 2009
biosafety law, including from GOE officials openly opposed to the
legislation, and the future of agriculture development in Ethiopia.
However, during opening and closing comments at the workshop, MoARD
State Minister Abera Deressa sent mixed messages about his
ministry's support for reviewing or amending the biosafety law. End
summary.
Biotech Workshop Well-Attended, Discussion Lively
--------------------------------------------- ----
2. (SBU) MoARD held a "National Workshop on Biotechnology" with
support from the U.S. Mission from February 1-3, 2010 in Addis
Ababa. Approximately 80 people attended the workshop, with
excellent participation from MoARD, the Ministry of Science and
Technology (MoST), the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research
(EIAR), Addis Ababa University (AAU), and other research facilities.
A number of high-ranking government officials attended the workshop
opening, at which Minister of Science and Technology Junedin Sado,
State Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Abera Deressa,
and EIAR Director General Solomon Assefa spoke. USAID/Ethiopia
worked closely with MoARD officials to craft the workshop agenda,
provided financial support used to secure conference facilities, and
USAID/Ethiopia Advisor Tessa Milofsky presented during the workshop.
The U.S. Embassy funded the participation of international speakers
through EEB's Biotechnology Outreach Program.
3. (SBU) Conference organizers were pleased with the level of
audience participation surrounding Ethiopia's highly restrictive
biosafety law (reftel), passed in 2009. Attendees appeared
well-informed, and understood many of the limitations associated
with the legislation. Throughout the workshop, attendees openly
criticized the legislation and identified it as a barrier to
progress in agriculture research and development in Ethiopia. Other
topics of discussion included biotechnology legislation and
regulations in various African countries, involvement of the
academic community and private sector in developing a comprehensive
biotechnology policy, and the need to educate senior-level
policymakers on the benefits of biotechnology to increasing food
security and agriculture development in Ethiopia.
4. (SBU) In a surprising departure from the reserve often shown in
Ethiopian culture, several Ethiopian participants from AAU and EIAR
candidly challenged the presenter from the Environmental Protection
Authority (EPA), which drafted the biosafety law and is viewed as
the strongest institutional opponent of agriculture biotechnology in
the government. EPA Director General Dr. Tewolde Berhan, who was
scheduled to present on the legislation, did not attend the
conference. The lone EPA participant, from the agency's legal
division, left immediately after his presentation.
MoARD Sends Mixed Signals on Biosafety Law
------------------------------------------
5. (SBU) During a 30-minute opening address on the first day of the
workshop, State Minister Abera highlighted opportunities for
agriculture research and development in Ethiopia, and expressed
MoARD's concern that the recently-enacted biosafety legislation
could stifle innovation and growth in the agriculture sector. In
the weeks leading up to the workshop, Dr. Abera had been very
proactive in promoting and organizing the event, and engaged with
USAID officials and EconOff to seek input regarding guest speakers
and the workshop's agenda. However, during closing remarks, Dr.
Abera's tone changed completely. He defended the biosafety law,
ignored issues identified by Ethiopian scientists from EIAR and AAU
during the workshop, and told attendees they should not challenge
the legislation until it had been tested (but did not address
challenges participants have already faced as a result of the law).
Foreign Speakers Share Experiences
----------------------------------
6. (SBU) Three State Department-funded international speakers proved
extremely helpful in educating policy-makers in the audience and
initiating discussion among the Ethiopian subject matter experts.
Dr. Magdy Madkour, Head of Biotechnology at the Arid Lands
Agricultural Research Institute, Ain Shams University, Egypt,
ADDIS ABAB 00000251 002 OF 002
discussed Egypt's experience utilizing biotechnology to boost
agriculture production in drought-prone climates. Dr. Margaret
Karembu, Director of the International Service for the Acquisition
of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) Africa Center, Nairobi, Kenya,
provided an overview of biotechnology laws and policies in COMESA
countries and a detailed presentation on Kenya's experience
developing its own biosafety law. Dr. Jacob Mignouna, Director of
Technical Operations at the African Agricultural Technology
Foundation (AATF), Nairobi, Kenya, framed the issue of biotechnology
development vs. biosafety with humor and tact. All were well
received by the audience.
Comment
-------
7. (SBU) Ethiopian government officials and agencies clearly hold
divergent views on biotechnology, ranging from the EPA's firm
opposition to biotechnology research and development, through
MoARD's flip-flopping, to the EIAR's keen interest in harnessing
modern science to address Ethiopia's chronic food insecurity. State
Minister Abera offered no insight into his dramatic change of heart
during the workshop. Post assesses he was influenced by politics,
rather than science. The biotechnology workshop generated healthy
debate on the 2009 biosafety law and the future of agriculture
development in Ethiopia, but it increasingly appears that engaging
officials at the most senior levels will be necessary to initiate a
meaningful review of the law and its consequences. End comment.
YATES
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