Africa Still Hesitant to Adapt Agro Biotech

Lack of funding, loss of trained technical expertise, slow development of the biotechnology sector, lack of political will and the issue of public acceptance brought by activism are the main challenges facing many African countries especially, East African countries on biotechnology and bio-safety.

A three-day workshop held in Mwanza Region, organized by African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) in collaboration with Tanzania Commission of Science and Technology (COSTECH), focused on strengthening reporting on agricultural biotechnology for relevant policy approaches.

The workshop brought together journalists, researchers and government officials from five African countries including , Kenya, Uganda, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia and the host Tanzania The aim was to enhance skills, capacity and knowledge to journalists to effectively report on agricultural biotechnology issues in African countries.

All coordinators of Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB) in AfBiotechnology (OFAB) in AfBiotechnology (OFAB) in Af rica also attended. “Journalists have a role to play on agri-biotech reporting.

Society should be provided with a balanced view of the fundamental of biotechnology and genetic engineering, the process used in developing transgenic organism, the types of genetic material used and the benefits of the new technology,” said OFAB Advisors from Tanzania Dr Niclous Nyange during the opening remarks of the workshop.

Modern biotechnology represents unique applications of science that can be used for the betterment of society through development of crops with improved nutritional quality, resistance to pests and diseases and reduced cost of production.

According to 2016 global status report on Biotech crops launched in Cameroon last week, African farmers planted 2.8 million hectares of biotech or Genetic Modified Organism (GMO) crops in 2016, the first 21year of global GM crops commercialization.

The report shows that a total of 13 countries up from 11 in 2015 either planted actively evaluated trials or transitioned to grant approvals for general release of various biotech crops.

South Africa and Sudan continued with commercial growing of biotech crop. Presenting a paper, country coordinator OFAB Uganda Chapter, Philip Chemoges said that in Uganda biotech is one of the options that can significantly contribute to national development.

Chemoges mentioned Genetic Modified (GM) crops under development in Uganda as Maize developed under Water Efficient for Maize (WEMA) project, banana, potatoes and other crops where they are waiting for the bill to be passed in order for the product go to for commercialisation.

Mr Chemoges insists on the importance of government efforts in collaboration with researchers, public in African countries in ensuring GM crops are adapted to increasing food and cash crops production, national development and improve farmer’s income.

“We have a solution of improving agricultural activities and the modern technology is there… but the problem is legislations for all Africa coun tries.

We need government support for hundred percent to help our farmers to adopting GM crops technology as the modern biotechnology in order to increase food productions to their households and income by adopting new technology that had already used in other continent,” country coordinator-Uganda OFAB insisted.

GM crops had already been adopted in Asia, India, South Africa, Burkina Faso in BT cotton, United States of America (USA) and many other countries in the world that would help in the development of the nations and change the lives of many smallholders farmers.

Genetic engineering (GE) techniques are employed in few countries in Africa with the commercialisation in South Africa, Egypt and Burkina Faso in such crops and traits as insect resistant cotton and maize as well as herbicide resistant soya bean and the combination of these straits.

South Africa continued to lead the adoption of biotech crops on the African continent with increased planting of biotech maize, soybean and cotton totaling to 2.66 million hectares in 2016, a 16 per cent increase from the reported biotech crop area of 2.29 million hectares in 2015, this is according to 2016 global status report on biotech crops.

Six countries conducted multi location trials in preparation for general release approvals. They include Burkina Faso (cowpea), Ethiopia (cotton), Ghana (cowpea), Nigeria (cowpea and sorghum), Swaziland (cotton) and Uganda (banana and maize), according to report.

Program Manager for OFAB-Africa at African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) Daniel Otunge said that this is the right time for all East Africa countries to give priority on the implementation of new and modern technology in agricultural activities as the majority of citizens from Africa countries depending on agriculture sector as the main activities.

“We are here to look into how we can change our farmers to stick on modern technology of biotechnology. Journalists have the big role to play in sharing true and credible or correct information with scientists in educating farmers and to encourage government, public as well as activists to see the importance of adopting modern technology of biotechnology in agricultural activities,” said Otunge.

Speaking during the regional workshop of training journalists on reporting agricultural biotechnology for relevant policy approach held in Mwanza Region recently Mr Otunge said, lack of political will, restrictive bio-safety regulations, low scientific capacity and low public awareness on biotechnology is among the challenges facing agri-biotech in African countries.

He called on African countries through its government to amend their roles and procedures in the implementation of modern technology of agriculture as the solution and it would help to remove challenges facing farmers especially pests and diseases that affect their crops.

The main solution of controlling various diseases that affect crops is by adopting modern technology of biotechnology and improved varieties including GMO crop technology, and other technologies that proved as import lance-best in farming activities.

The Liaison officer-OFAB Kenya, Paul Chege said the challenges of biotech progress in Kenya is the ban of GMO food importation imposed in 2012, apparent of coordination between government agencies oversight role and others.

“Recurrent drought and pests and diseases lead to shortage of food in the country. The solution is to use modern method of technology of biotechnology that is drought tolerant and diseases resistant. One of the journalists from Uganda said, “It is true that journalists have a big role to play in educating the public on the importance of using modern technology especially GMO crops technology as the modern biotechnology… ..

But they need positive support from the public and experts who seems to oppose the technology although they understood the technology,” he explained.

Adding, join efforts has been needed from all of us by understanding what we expect to achieve, our main aim and to what extent our farmers suffer when investing many energy in cultivating crops and get very low yield due to poor farming methods and diseases.

By Fatma Abdu

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Source: Tanzania Daily News

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