African governments asked to take a step in biotech commercialisation on the continent

A panel of experts at the AATF June webinar have called on African governments to take lead and support the adoption and commercialisation of genetically modified (GM) crops on the continent by putting in place formidable and technically sound regulatory frameworks. The experts who spoke at the Webinar held on June 14th, 2021, under the theme “Biotechnology as a Tenable Solution to Address Hunger in Africa”, noted that the continent is making progress based on recent developments in various countries including Nigeria, Kenya, and Ghana.

Dr. Emmanuel Okogbenin, the Director of Programme Development and Commercialisation at AATF, said at the webinar that Africa is lagging in the application of innovative agricultural technologies despite it having revolutionized the agricultural sector globally leading to improved agricultural productions.

He noted that factors that constrain access to innovations resulting in low agricultural productivity in the region include low adoption of technologies such as biotechnologies, which have been identified as critical for increasing agricultural productivity and reducing hunger and poverty in Africa.

Dr. Issoufou Kollo, the Pod Borer Resistant (PBR) Cowpea Manager at AATF, appealed for broad-based support for agricultural biotechnology on the continent bringing together a national association of farmers, private seed companies, decision-makers, professional associations, and national academy of sciences.

According to him, partnerships is critical for quality result as no single organisation can undertake the development and commercialization Biotech-crops alone.

He cited the success recorded with the Pod Borer Resistant Cowpea project in Nigeria as proof of concept for national scientists to use in convincing their governments to increase their support for agricultural research and development.

“Scientists should know that they cannot work in isolation from society; they are accountable for their successes and failures,” said Dr. Kollo.

 A strong political will from governments is essential for agricultural biotechnology to flourish on the continent according to Godwin Lemgo, the Regulatory Scientific Affairs Manager for Africa at Bayer Crop Science. Lemgo noted that investment in research and development fuels innovation, while effective partnerships would ensure that innovations reach smallholder farmers.

“A clear and harmonized legal framework is necessary to ensure Africa can leapfrog other advanced economies on biotechnology development and adoption. This can then be sustained through strong in-country stewardship support that will ensure the longevity of biotechnology,” he added.

Dr. Margaret Karembu, Director, ISAAA AfriCenter, said biotechnology is important to meet the 50 per cent increase in food demand by 2050.

“Biotech crops have shown potential for addressing population growth, urbanization, climate change, agricultural productivity and innovation, transboundary pests and diseases, nutrition and health, food losses and waste,” she said.

Dr. Karembu stated that it is evident biotechnology is delivering going by a key global report that indicates a reduction of pesticide use by 776 million kg (8.6%), lowered associated environmental impact and by19 per cent between 1996 and 2018, increased farmer incomes by $225 billion producing 824 million tons of food, feed and fibre and reduction of carbon emission by 23 billion kg.

In his presentation, Prof. Martin Lema of the National University of Quilmes, Argentina, said that key to progress in biotechnology is the provision of the necessary environment and adequate regulatory regime by governments to guide the development and deployment process.

Citing Argentina as a case study, Lema noted that the country had, since the introduction of a regulatory framework in 1991, evolved and guided 2,500 field trials, 60 approved events, 4 recombinant veterinary vaccines and 22 gene editing products

The webinar focused on varied subjects including the role of biotechnology in addressing challenges in crop production in Africa; factors that enable biotech adoption; lessons from Argentina on trends in biotech adoption of food crops, and the PBR Cowpea development and commercialization in Nigeria.

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