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The Herald – Zimbabwe
Why Zim must harness benefits of biotechnology
Sifelani Tsiko Agric, Environment & Innovations Editor
The mere mention of genetically modified foods (GMOs) has stirred emotions and popular consternation around the issue of altered foods, with concerns over health and its effects on the environment. So much has been said about GMOs, with various people on opposing sides making various claims substantiated and unsubstantiated.
The result has been fear, confusion and meaningless propaganda.
Fear of new technology has generated mixed feelings marked by initial scepticism followed with embrace and adoption after noting the benefits.
Despite a blanket ban on GMOs in Zimbabwe, scientists have been doing research on GMO crops for years benefiting other countries which they have been sharing their findings with.
Darlington Mutetwa, a Quton plant breeder, has spearheaded efforts to promote the growing genetically modified cotton in Nigeria, Malawi and other African countries.
Renowned University of Zimbabwe biochemist Prof Idah Sithole-Niang has also been at the forefront of promoting the growing of GM crops from maize, cowpeas, Bt cotton and others globally without much recognition back home.
The same goes for a number of top Zimbabwean academics who are working in various top global companies using biotechnology to promote the development of various agricultural and medical products.
All this has been going on without Zimbabwe benefiting from its talent and the emerging technology, simply because the country is not willing to adopt the new technologies.
Zimbabwe, for long has been a hostile place for researchers testing genetically modified crops.
Through a combination of regulations, bureaucracy, mistrust and fear, the Government has barred the commercial planting of a transgenic crops.
Anti-GM activists have also added to the woes, but under the new dispensation, things are changing.
Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development Minister Professor Amon Murwira has been bold and aggressive in terms of re-orienting the education system under five terms of reference which includes teaching, research, community engagement, innovation and industrialisation.
He has come out strongly and supported science and technology development to promote the new products, platforms and solutions that embed best practice to support the country’s industrial and technological development.
The space is opening up for scientists who are keen on GM crop development.
And, recently, the National Biotechnology Authority of Zimbabwe organised the biosafety sensitisation and consultative workshop to demystify biotechnology and GMOs for parliamentarians and other stakeholders.
The hosting of the event was supported by the African Union Development Agency-New Partnership for Africa’s Development/African Biosafety Network of Expertise (AUDA-NEPAD/ABNE), an African Union (AU) organisation responsible for supporting the building of functional biosafety regulatory systems in African Union member states.
All this demonstrates the opening up of space for scientists and the international research community to play their part in creating an enabling environment for Zimbabwe to adopt new technologies that can enhance agricultural productivity.
Years of unnecessary anti-GMO debate in Zimbabwe has missed the mark.
We should not just single out GMOs for criticism, but also look at the impact of the vast amount of chemicals — nitrogen fertilisers and synthetic pesticides used in our conventional agricultural system.
These also have serious implications on health and the environment. Our scientists are quite clear about GM technology — that it is not a “silver bullet” solution, but one crop strategy we can employ to enhance our crop yields and reduce our costs.
Our own biochemists, Prof Christopher Chetsanga and Prof Sithole-Niang, have spoken out eloquently on the subject and outlining the potential benefits of GM crops.
They have said that Zimbabwe should go step by step and start with GM cotton as plunging into GM food crops totally may be too risky and controversial.
They are saying Zimbabwe should at least move to do trials for Bt cotton to boost cotton production.
Government wants to prioritise digitisation and technology and innovation in order to achieve meaningful development in the country and the region.
To meet the Fourth Industrial Revolution in Zimbabwe and the SADC region, our country has pledged to promote emerging technologies in a number of fields such as robotics, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, quantum computing, big data, biotechnology, fifth generation wireless technology and 3D printing.
Prof Sithole-Niang says if the growing of genetically modified cotton is allowed in Zimbabwe it could be a boon for the State.
She says if we adopt GM cotton we can save up to US$90 million a year in terms of reduced production cost.
The country, she argues, could also get $40 million in incremental revenue every year through improved crop yields and reduced cost of production.
Zimbabwe was the first country in Africa to conduct confined field trials for GM cotton and maize around 2000 before the country put a blanket ban on GM crop trials and food by 2005.
And as a result, biotechnology experts say the country has lost out on the potential benefits of new agricultural technologies that can significantly boost yields, incomes and improve livelihoods.
Zimbabwe has not adopted GMO crop technologies, but established the National Biotechnology Authority in 2006 to regulate research, transport, import, manufacture, safe handling and use of organisms and products of modern biotechnology.
In its Second Science, Technology and Innovation Policy released in March 2012, the country identified biotechnology as one of the most promising tools that can help increase food productivity, enhance the health and wellness of society and boost manufacturing output.
While Zimbabwe is delaying the adoption of GM crops, other countries such as South Africa have been growing GM maize, soyabean and cotton for nearly two decades with latest statistics indicating plant hectarage of some 2,7 million hectares.
There has been a massive spread of GMO products in Zimbabwe and across the entire SADC region which include maize, cotton and soyabean, livestock feed, tobacco, bananas, potatoes, poultry products and vegetables.
The New Times – Rwanda
Facebook’s Libra cryptocurrency raises global concerns
By: Fred K. Nkusi
Facebook is planning to launch its own cryptocurrency early next year, allowing users to make digital payments around the world.
The digital currency known as Libra will be backed by a reserve of real-world assets, including bank deposits and short-term government securities.
A Libra currency is currently backed by 21 founding companies in the Libra Association.
The association, which will serve as a monetary authority for Libra, is to empower billions of people with 1.7 billion adults without bank accounts set to use the cryptocurrency.
Libra is similar to other cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin. Like bitcoin, Libra will be entirely in digital form.
Libra transactions are recorded on a software ledger known as blockchain that confirms each transfer.
According to Facebook, a Libra project would expand into e-commerce, which will drag cryptocurrencies into the mainstream. In other words, this digital currency would enable Facebook’s users to change dollars and other international currencies into its digital coins.
The coins could then be used to buy things on the internet and in shops and other outlets or to transfer money without needing a bank account. The structure is intended to foster trust and stabilize the price volatility that plagues cryptocurrencies and renders them impractical for commerce and payments.
According to Mark Zuckerberg, the Founder and CEO of Facebook, if approved by the US Treasury Department, the project would engage money transfer firms, including Western Union, to develop cheap, safe ways for people to send and receive money.
Beyond that, it has been reported that Facebook is working on its cryptocurrency to be used even in transferring money on WhatsApp, its encrypted mobile-messaging app. It would be even used for cross-border payments or for settling very small sums.
The big concern today in many countries is how such cryptocurrency would comply with the international monetary system.
A potentially particular concern lies on whether Facebook would be able to guarantee the safety and security of the cryptocurrency transaction. The project has drawn heavy scrutiny from regulators and politicians, particularly in the G7.
And many concerns revolve around likely disruption with the international monetary system.
It’s absolutely unusual for a private company, like Facebook, would issue currency other than the governments. Policy-makers questions its security in comparison with international currencies; if they may not promote drug-dealing and money-laundering, among others.
Apparently, Facebook has unsatisfactorily answered the fundamental questions about how a Libra will work, what consumer protection will be offered and how data will be secured.
Especially from the G7, authorities have centred their potential concerns if a Libra would not destabilize the global financial system, interfering with sovereign monetary policy and harm privacy as well as its potential use.
Aside from the governments’ concerns, there’s a huge test whether people will trust the social networking giant enough to start changing their cash for Libra. To build trust in the system by its users, Facebook has to engage governments, central banks and regulators, to name but a few. In any event, Facebook has a mountainous task ahead.
A couple of reports have raised warning that Libra could stifle competition among other providers. The issue of disrupting the global financial system by the increasing presence of tech giants in areas such as payments was reiterated by Christine Lagarde, former Managing Director of International Monetary Fund (IMF).
She further noted that the rise in financial technology, known as FinTech, has the power to significantly disrupt the global financial system.
Once, the Libra cryptocurrency is launched, it would give a huge task to the central banks to stabilise monetary policy.
Moreover, as the demand for cryptocurrency grows, global regulation on these currencies aren’t backed by any central government, meaning they’re not legally recognised in the majority of countries.
While addressing a FinTech symposium held on the sidelines of the G20 finance leaders’ meeting in Fukuoka, Japan, mid-2019, former IMF Boss Christine Lagarde said “a significant disruption to the financial landscape is likely to come from the big tech firms, who will use their enormous customer bases and deep pockets to offer financial products based on big data and artificial intelligence”.
Basing on the technological reality, innovation from the world’s biggest tech firms could help modernise financial markets, it could give them a concerning monopoly and mean many of the world’s cross-border payment and settlement mechanisms fall under their control.
Among other things, FinTech helps speed up payments and remittances transactions and strengthens the underlying monitoring systems that record such transactions.
If no strict restrictions put in place by the government, things may get out of control.
If Libra is approved, the backers of this currency must protect consumers and investors against fraud and combat tax evasion, money laundering, and the financing of terrorism, ensuring that risks are thoroughly understood and managed.
They must also protect the integrity and stability of the financial system. Though there’s uncertainty about the use of Libra, it’s crucially important to develop a forward-looking regulatory framework to guarantee safe and secure digital payment.
Facebook’s plan to launch Libra must be seen as a precursor to more stringent regulatory controls with respect to the financial services they offer.