Biotechnology regulation is “stifling growth”


Maina Waruru
Freelance journalist, SciDev.Net

Stringent regulation of biotechnology is making students in African universities shy away from postgraduate study, as they believe it will be difficult to find jobs.

The strict regulation has stifled growth of biotechnology, making it hard for graduates to find jobs or put their knowledge to practical use. Meanwhile, the continent continues to be in urgent need of technologies to solve her myriad food, health and development problems.

As a result, graduates with a first degree in biosciences are finding jobs in unrelated fields such as banking, due to a lack of opportunities in the biotech sub-sector.

“In Kenya’s Kenyatta university, the master’s course used to be able to attract as many as 45 students,” said Professor Eucharia Kenya, a former lecturer at the institution and now a consultant at the International Centre for Health Interventions and Research in Africa (ICHIRA). “Now, even getting ten is becoming a problem.”

At a session on biotechnology and food security at the ASJC, she warned that strict regulation was ‘killing’ the key sub-sector, putting graduates off pursuing postgraduate study.

Analysis in a Kenyan lab. Photo credit: Sustainable sanitation, flickr

Another speaker, Dr Roy Mugira, a technology policy specialist with Kenya’s Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, told the event that biotechnology is most expendable unit in the biological sciences.

“African governments are quick to put regulation in place on biotechnology before they have even acquired the technologies,” he said.

He observed that African countries often ‘play the victim’ with biotechnology, behaving as if the field was promoted internationally with the purpose of harming them.

This, he noted, means that governments heavily legislate the technology as opposed to exploring the area, resulting in stifled growth.

“When you over-regulate biotechnology, you strangle technology, leaving little space for growth or commercialisation,” noted Dr Mugira.

This blog post is part of our Africa Science Journalists Conference 2012 blog, which takes place 20-23 August in Nakuru, Kenya. To read news and analysis on science journalism please visit our website.

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