The Challenges of Introducing Modern Agricultural Technologies in Tanzania
The Case of Public Awareness and Acceptance to Genetically Modified (GM) Technologies
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.