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Dhaka Tribune

Nat’l biotech body meets after 3 years, directs removal of regulatory barriers

All concerned have been asked to come up with some real progress and results in their respective areas so that those could be presented before the prime minister

Update : 20 Mar 2024, 10:00 AM

Emerging from a long hiatus, the National Executive Committee of Biotechnology (NECB), has held its first meeting in three years, rekindling high hopes that many scientific advancements, which have long been shelved in the absence of proper policy directives, will gain pace now. 

Mohammad Tofazzel Hossain Miah, principal secretary to the prime minister, chaired the meeting held at the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) recently, as a prelude to a much-expected meeting of the National Taskforce on Biotechnology of Bangladesh (NTBB), the highest authority on biotech science in the country that the prime minister heads.  

Government secretaries, scientists and academics present at the NECB meeting told Dhaka Tribune that the schedule of the upcoming NTBB has not been finalized yet, but all concerned have been asked to come up with some real progress and results in their respective areas so that those could be presented before the prime minister.

In response, the officials informed the NECB meeting that some ag-biotech results had got into a quagmire and were not reaching people due to delays caused by regulatory indecisions.

A participant at the meeting, speaking on condition of anonymity, told this correspondent that the issue of the agriculture ministry’s biotech products getting stuck in the Environment Ministry was brought to the attention of the principal secretary.

He said that due to delays in the approval process of biotech products like vitamin A enriched Golden Rice, many other climate-smart, nutrient rich and disease resistant advanced crop lines are lying in the pipeline.   

The NECB meeting, attended by senior secretaries, secretaries of at least 10 ministries, officials from the Atomic Energy Commission, National Institute of Biotechnology and a few academics, and researchers, also inquired about the delay in the works of the National Gene Bank.

NTBB in its second meeting with the prime minister chairing it in April, 2012, had decided to establish a national gene bank. The project got a Tk. 500 crore budget approval back in 2018 but the task hasn't been accomplished yet. 

The NECB meeting gave directives to all concerned to expedite the process of all pending tasks so that a result-oriented NTBB meeting could be planned soon. It emphasized removing regulatory roadblocks, and the need of developing more biotech-derived crops for the sake of better nutrition and future food security. 

Ag-biotech to achieve nutrition security

Scientists working on research and development of ag-biotech products, meanwhile, expressed deep frustration at regulatory roadblocks, which they think deprive people of the blessings of science.

Speaking at a roundtable on  the subject, Agri-Biotechnology to Achieve Nutrition Security for Smart Bangladesh, at a city hotel last week, Dr Md Shahjahan Kabir, Director General of Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI), said that BRRI had submitted an application seeking approval of vitamin A enriched Golden Rice back in 2017. “There hasn’t been any major breakthrough in more than six years since the application was submitted and we are still waiting to hear from the ministry of environment.”

Wahida Akter, Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, who was present as the chief guest on the occasion, referred to the recently held NECB meeting and assured all that “we’re optimistic to remove the roadblocks for ag-biotech.” She said if good products like Golden Rice don't get regulatory approval, the scientists of the country would not feel encouraged to research and innovate.

Dr Howarth Bouis, a World Food Prize winner and Emeritus Fellow of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), and Dr Russell Reinke, Program Lead of the International Rice Research Institute’s (IRRI) Healthier Rice Program, gave two presentations at the roundtable highlighting the importance of developing more nutritious crops for millions of malnourished people, particularly women and children across rice-eating Asia.

They spoke of the Philippine experience where farmers have already started cultivating vitamin A enriched rice through a very supportive policy regime pursued by the government.   

Ibrahim Saiyed, Country Manager-Healthier Rice Program, IRRI, Jahangirnagar University biotechnology professor Dr Abdullah Mohammad Shohael and some other researchers, scientists, academics also initiated Bangladesh Agri-Biotech Nutrition Forum (BANF) at the event to promote the cause of frontier science in Bangladesh’s farm sector. 

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