2 May 2012
Expansion of the Forum’s activities to contribute to an enabling environment for agricultural biotechnology that will allow for the testing and delivery of innovative tools to help farmers enhance their food security and create wealth for their families and nations
The Open Forum for Agricultural Biotechnology in Africa (OFAB) today announced it had received a grant of US$3 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to expand its work. The announcement was made during the Forum’s fifth anniversary celebrations in Accra, Ghana. The initiative set up in 2006, aims to enhance knowledge-sharing and awareness on biotechnology and to contribute to building an enabling environment for decision making on agricultural biotechnology in Africa.
“Biotechnology has delivered substantial benefits to farmers around the world but Africa still lags behind in exploiting its potential partly due to lack of an enabling environment for the development and use of agricultural biotechnology,” said Hon Sherry Ayittey, Ghana’s Minister for Environment, Science and Technology in her address during the Forum’s fifth anniversary celebration in Accra, Ghana.
“Discussions over agricultural biotechnology and its application are surrounded by misperceptions due to lack of or conflicting information,” she continued. “This is a challenge that decision makers who must make the right decisions in the face of a rapidly growing population, declining agricultural productivity and reduced resources available for agricultural research continue to face,” she added.
Over the past 20 years, agricultural biotechnology has made a positive impact on poverty reduction and hunger in the developing world, but mainly in Asia and Latin America. Sub-Saharan Africa, with an estimated population of 800 million in 2007, continues to register low farm productivity even as two-thirds of its population lives in rural areas and depend on agriculture for survival. The region has the world's largest concentration of people who go to bed hungry every day - estimated at a third of the population.
“OFAB addresses the existing biotechnology information gaps and concerns by facilitating the interaction of scientists involved in biotechnology research with journalists, policy makers, civil society, farmers and other stakeholders,” said Dr Denis Kyetere, the Executive Director of the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF).
“Over the last five years, we have seen discussions held at OFAB making input into Africa’s decision on how biotechnology can contribute to its food security and economic developmental goals, thus significantly contributing to achieving the UN Millennium Development Goal of reducing extreme poverty and hunger by half by 2015,” said Dr Kyetere.
OFAB was initiated by AATF and is currently being implemented in five African countries of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Nigeria, and Ghana in collaboration with like-minded partners. OFAB plans to open a sixth country chapter in 2012. OFAB partners in the countries include the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA-Africenter) in Kenya; the Uganda Council of Science and Technology (UNCST), the Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology (COSTECH), Nigeria’s National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Ghana.
“Effective development and use of new technologies require an enabling environment that will improve understanding, contribute to the process of formulation of relevant policies and laws and ultimately support the adoption and use of these technologies by small-scale farmers across Africa,” said Dr Salifu, the Director General of CSIR, Ghana.
“Through the forum, the scientists get the much needed chance to impact policy makers on the need to mainstream science and technology into Africa’s development agenda and back that with adequate funds for research and development,” said Dr Salifu.
Currently, OFAB operates through holding of monthly meetings in the different countries, where topics of interest in agricultural biotechnology are presented and discussed. The principal areas of discussions during the meetings include those specific to understanding agricultural biotechnology in general and how it applies to Sub-Saharan Africa, updating stakeholders on biotechnology project developments and discussing enabling factors such as intellectual property management, liability, seed systems and commercialisation.
“OFAB has played, and will continue to play, a key role in improving public awareness on biotechnology in Africa,” said Dr Kyetere. “This funding will go a long way to support the current activities of OFAB and also enable the chapters to expand their activities outside their current monthly meetings to cover a wider geographical scope within the country and organize targeted biotech communication events for specific categories of stakeholders” he added. The expansion of OFAB activities will contribute to the attainment of the overall goal of creating an enabling environment for agricultural biotechnology.
In order to create the necessary enabling environment, policy makers and the people they serve need to have the right information on agricultural biotechnology to inform decision making and subsequent action. Currently, the biotechnology debate is characterised by scientific facts which are often mixed with environmental, health, social-ethical and political considerations. This complicates matters for these key decision makers often resulting in development of negative perceptions of biotechnology and mis-informed discussions.
“OFAB strives to ensure that policy makers, farmers and agricultural stakeholders have clear and well-structured information on biotechnology that shows that agricultural biotechnology has an important and useful role to play in enhancing food security and creating wealth,” said Dr Peter Ndemere, the Executive Secretary of UNCST and chair of the OFAB-Uganda chapter.
Lessons and experience gained during the five years that OFAB has been in operation point to the potential that it offers in creating better understanding and appreciation of agricultural biotechnology in SSA to address biotechnology information needs of policy makers and the general public.
“We have seen OFAB contribute to informing policy decisions on biotechnology through the provision of a platform for highly interactive discussions on biotechnology including discussions on regulations and biosafety laws” said Dr Margaret Karembu, the chair of the OFAB-Kenya chapter.
OFAB in Nigeria has grown and is recognised as a key awareness and information sharing forum with increased calls for its work to be expanded to cover the countryside. “It has served as a key platform for informing various stakeholders on the importance, content, and impacts of the country’s biosafety bill,” said Prof Bamidele Solomon, the OFAB-Nigeria chairman. “We see OFAB continuing to play this role in the countries that are in the process of passing their bills and those that have already passed them to support the commercialisation and use of biotech crops,” he added.
There has been increased policy maker public pronouncements on the benefits of biotechnology. Hosted by NABDA, OFAB has acted as the agricultural biotechnology stakeholders’ convening body, bringing stakeholders together through provision of a discussion platform and sharing of updates on key developments. The Chapter continues to host high level government officials from key ministries such as agriculture, science and technology, environment, information and communications including members of parliament during presentation of topical issues relevant to their ministries.
According to Dr Hassan Mshinda, the chair of the OFAB-Tanzania chapter, “the enactment of enabling biosafety bills will allow for the testing and delivery of agricultural biotechnology tools that will ultimately benefit farmers in SSA. Our farmers need to access innovative technologies to address their agricultural productivity constraints and consequently play a role in enhancing food security and creating wealth for their families and nations. Such technologies are currently out of their reach due to inadequate information on their use and adoption.”
“OFAB’s vision is for an Africa in which agricultural biotechnology makes a significant contribution to enhanced food security and wealth creation,” said Dr Kyetere. “To help realise this vision, OFAB seeks to build an effective, trustworthy and responsive platform for society to make informed decisions on safety and appropriateness of the application of agricultural biotechnology.”
The African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) is a not-for-profit organisation that facilitates and promotes public/private partnerships for the access and delivery of appropriate proprietary agricultural technologies for use by resource-poor smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa.
The Open Forum for Agricultural Biotechnology in Africa (OFAB) is a platform that provides an opportunity for biotechnology stakeholders to network, share knowledge and experiences, and explore new avenues of bringing the benefits of biotechnology to the African farmer and investor.