Six things to know as Rwanda promulgates GMO law

Paddy rice production in 2023 amounted to 133,628 tonnes, 1,446 tonnes less than the 135,074 tonnes recorded in the previous year, in Rwanda. On February 21, 2024, the country enacted legislation governing biosafety, aimed at ensuring the safe handling, transfer, and use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) food in the country.

While genetically modified organisms (GMOs) foods may not be readily visible on local markets, they are part of today’s global food supply, according to available literature.

On February 21, Rwanda enacted legislation governing biosafety, aimed at ensuring the safe handling, transfer, and use of GMOs within the country.

The law’s primary objective is to establish a robust level of protection concerning the safe transfer and utilization of living modified organisms (LMOs), commonly known as GMOs, generated through modern biotechnology. This measure considers the potential adverse impacts on biological diversity and human health resulting from such transfer and utilization.

Understanding GMOs

The new law defines a living modified organism, or GMO, as an organism possessing a novel combination of genetic material acquired through modern biotechnology.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), GMOs are organisms, including plants, animals, or microorganisms, whose genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a manner not naturally occurring through mating or natural recombination.

The technology is often called modern biotechnology or gene technology, sometimes also recombinant DNA technology” or genetic engineering, and allows selected individual genes to be transferred from one organism into another, also between non related species, it added.

Confined Field Trials and Regulations

GMO adoption involves stringent safety and productivity measures, such as confined field trials. These trials entail the experimental release of a living modified organism into a specific environment, under controlled conditions to limit its impact on humans and the environment.

Countries with regulatory frameworks for GMOs focus on assessing risks to consumer health and the environment. Activities subject to permit application include contained use, field trials, intentional introduction, marketing, importing, and handling of GMOs.

Safety Considerations

The safety of GM foods should be assessed on a case-by-case basis, considering the unique genetic modifications and potential risks. Currently available GM foods have undergone safety assessments and pose no known risks to human health based on consumption data.

ALSO READ: Drought, pest-tolerant biotech maize gaining foothold in Africa

Purpose and Benefits of GMOs

GMO crops are primarily developed to help farmers prevent crop loss. Common traits include resistance to insect damage, herbicide tolerance, and protection against plant viruses. They offer benefits such as pest resistance, drought tolerance, and enhanced food security.

According to the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), GMOs – obtained through modern agricultural biotechnology – can also offer other desired traits such as resistance to pests such as stem borer and fall armyworm, and tolerance to drought, and contribute to food and nutrition security through food production at relatively lower costs.

Global GMO Crop Status

In 2023, the global area under GM crops expanded by 1.9%, reaching 206.3 million hectares across 27 countries. Soybean was the most extensively planted GM crop, exceeding 100 million hectares, with the USA leading in GM maize cultivation.

GMOs vs Hybrid Crops

Hybrid crops result from cross-pollination between different plant varieties, aiming to combine desirable genetic traits. Traditional breeding methods, although effective, are time-consuming and less precise compared to genetic engineering. Genetic engineering allows for more specific modifications, such as insect resistance or drought tolerance, in a shorter time frame.


Emmanuel Ntirenganya

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