The Challenges of Introducing Modern Agricultural Technologies in Tanzania

Dec 7, 2012

The Case of Public Awareness and Acceptance to Genetically Modified (GM) Technologies

Farmers' meeting in a village

By Roshan Said Abdallah

Agricultural Innovation Research Foundation (AIRF) recently conducted a study (forthcoming) to find out the extent of public awareness and acceptance of Genetically Modified (GM) technologies in Tanzania was conducted using Dar es Salaam and Arusha regions as representative samples. Primary data was collected using a questionnaire administered to 200 individuals in public and private institutions, NGOs, and the general public through face-to-face interviews and electronic surveys. 

The study’s results revealed very low public awareness and public acceptance of GM technologies in both regions. The study also found out that, since 2003, the Tanzanian government has initiated the National Biosafety Framework (NBF) project in collaboration with UNEP/GEF to develop legal and institutional frameworks for biosafety in the country. Furthermore, the government has also established national committees on biotechnology and biosafety to oversee the safe application of GM technologies. However, despite all these efforts by the government in preparing the country to safely apply GM technologies, it was found that the majority of the Tanzanian public is unaware of the initiatives. Moreover, the public is also unaware of the benefits of GM technologies and that safe application for agricultural production is possible. 

This study made several recommendations to the government to improve public awareness. The government needs to put in its agenda, and give high priority, issues of public awareness creation on GM technologies. It also needs to sensitize the public and engage them in national dialogues during national legal and institutional framework and policymaking processes. This will improve understanding, create confidence and enhance acceptance of the technology and informed decision making on application of GM technologies in agricultural productions in Tanzania.


In order to enhance public awareness and acceptance of the GM technologies in Tanzania, we recommend the following to be done by the government and other stakeholders:

a) Prioritize issues of public awareness of GM technologies so as to build understanding of the issues that might lead to acceptance of the technologies and hence may solve some of the problems in agricultural production; 

b) Mobilize the public to participate in the national policymaking process by engaging them in national dialogues around new technologies; 

c) Ensure that varied  stakeholders’ needs and interests are represented in the dialogue; 

d) The international agreements which Tanzania is signatory requests government agencies to solicit public comments on policies, laws, regulations, guidelines, etc. The Aarhus Convention for example requires access to information and public participation in decision-making. Likewise the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, article 23 specifically addresses the issue of public awareness and participation.  This will create a sense of ownership of the final decision and will inspire public trust and hence will make acceptance of the technology sustainable; 

e) Grant the public access to the maximum amount of information, especially the translation of the information in an understandable format and language; 

f) Develop a public risk communication strategy that identifies the elements and guiding principles of risk communication (FAO, 1999); 

g) Expand public participation opportunities to disaggregated groups in rural communities who are more difficult to reach or have less access to communication channels (e.g., women, subsistence farmers); 

h) Use various media of communication such as newspaper, radio, internet, workshops, meetings etc. to provide relevant and reliable information to the general public so as to access quality information about GMOs; 

i) Concretize and assesses the needs of the general public related to GMOs and determine how can local capacity be built and develop effective strategies to respond to these needs;  

j) Facilitate by providing adequate funding for all the communication processes with the public; and

k) Organize public participation activities on a regional basis to gain experiences from our neighbors. 

GMO Perspectives in Tanzania

I think this study is fairly accurate and represents important rationale why Tanzania lags behind in biotechnology development in East Africa despite the important strides already made by her neighbors, Kenya and Uganda.

However i believe that biotechnology in Tanzania is lagging behind due to a couple of other more reasons:

1. The Tanzanian government has not established enough good will to advance in biotechnology research and development despite interests from development partners and biotech companies. This lack of interest results from low technical capacity of the scientific human resource base and low level of technical understanding on biotechnology issues by policy makers
2. The Tanzanian environmental management legislation under which bio-safety issues are addressed is too harsh to attract investment in the biotech sector due to the 'redress and liability' clauses that are unattractive to biotech investors
3. The general laxity amongst public sector players and very strong anti-biotech community that advocates for the traditional 'organic agriculture' and 'sustainable agriculture' standards which may not be adequate for food security and improved productivity in the country's agriculture sector

I have interacted with many Tanzanian colleagues/professionals and i have found that they generally and wrongly believe that biotech is unsafe and a ploy from western companies to 'kill off' local germplasm and traditional seed system. In fact Tanzanian Masters and Doctoral students who study biotechnology and genetic engineering conduct their experiments and confined field trials in Kenya and not in Tanzanian institutions! A big shame indeed!

One key factor that Tanzanian authorities should not neglect is that due to the porous nature and open borders between the regional countries, once biotech takes root in Kenya and Uganda, Tanzanian farmers will naturally adopt the technology without any prior approvals from the Tanzanian government as has happened in South American states with soy beans. Therefore it is up to the authorities in that country to allow modern biotechnology to take route under more enabling law and regulations or they will get themselves struggling to 'cap' a technology that would have taken root without control because of the benefits it confers.

Biotechnology promises to confer benefits to farmers as has happened with the over 17 million farmers worldwide who are already using the technology in Africa, north America, Europe, south America, Asia and the middle east.