MORE Southern African Development Community (Sadc) countries could soon be planting genetically modified crops after the farming unions in 12 of the 14 member countries signed a common policy framework on the crops and called on their governments to harmonise policies in the region.

Farming communities in the region, where genetically modified crops are generally not allowed, are feeling left out as their counterparts who are using these crops in SA, Egypt and Burkina Faso are improving productivity and incomes.

Uganda recently allowed controlled research into genetically modified organisms with the intention of developing seeds suitable for local crops.

The Southern African Confederation of Agriculture Unions (Sacau), which is represented in 12 of Sadc's 14 member countries, adopted a common policy framework on genetically modified organisms last week in which it called for "political will" to speed up the harmonisation of policies on genetically modified organisms in the region.

Frustrated by the reluctance of most Sadc governments to debate and legislate on genetically modified organisms, Sacau has argued that governments in the region should urgently establish "a bio-safety framework for the region", to create an enabling regulatory and a responsible development environment for genetically modified organisms.

The policy framework emanated from a conference in Vereeniging last month when farmers engaged with researchers and leading experts around issues of genetically modified crops in agricultural development in Southern Africa.

CEO Ishmael Sunga, of the Sacau secretariat, said in a statement that the conference believes genetically modified technology is one of the options that increased production, generates and improves income for farmers, and contributes to food security challenges in the region.

The document also calls for more research and development, as well as the widespread dissemination of the research results to empower farmers to make more informed decisions about genetically modified seeds and planting methods.

The document also advocates that farmers be granted rights to choose to be involved in research and development programmes in genetically modified organisms, and in related standards setting processes and structures.

It also advances the idea of a cost- benefit analysis associated with the non-adoption of genetically modified crops by countries to make it possible for governments to keep records of any potential losses in delaying the planting of genetically modified crops.

The framework agreed by stakeholders recognises the need for evidence-based decision-making processes, and that the right of consumers to choose whether to use products based on genetically modified organisms must be respected.

Mr Sunga said he would release the organisation's decisions and position statements on genetically modified organisms to the respective governments.

Signatories of Sacau's framework include the farmer unions of Botswana, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, SA, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo are not yet affiliated.

The paper calls for more research and development and the wide dissemination of the research results

The framework recognises the need for evidence-based decision-making processes