I have been involved for over 15 years in the fight to get Africa firmly and fully engaged in biotechnology. Africa Harvest, the organization I work for, subscribes to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization’s (FAO) definition of biotechnologies as “tools and techniques that can improve agriculture and food production.” This certainly includes new DNA techniques, molecular biology, and reproductive technological applications.

As Communication Director of Africa Harvest, and working closely with our CEO, Dr. Florence Wambugu, an early advocate of the technology for the continent, I have witnessed the ups and downs of the biotech debate.  It was therefore very refreshing to participate at the recent FAO’s Africa Regional conference on “The Role of Agricultural Biotechnologies in Sustainable Food Systems and Nutrition,” held at the African Union Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

For the first time, we witnessed the inclusivity and diversity of voices reaching a consensus on the need for the broadest range of biotechnologies. It was stimulating to see that well-known opponents of biotech – more specifically, of Genetic Engineering – had the space to discuss and sit side-by-side with scientists and researchers to articulate their differing points of view.  FAO’s definition of biotechnologies (note the plural!) definitely helped achieve convergence and clarify that some areas of difference remain around GM issues.  

The mood of the conference and the progress reported by scientists, policymakers, and the private sector gave the impression that Africa is definitely approaching a tipping point.  A presentation on Bt cotton in Sudan, Ethiopia’s decision to commercialize Bt cotton in 2018, and Nigeria’s fast and excellent progress on Bt cotton trials confirm that the continent is on the right track.  Once the big economies, especially Nigeria and Ethiopia, fully embrace the technology, the countries in the sub-regions are likely to follow suit.

Daniel Kamanga, Africa Harvest, South Africa

This reflection is one in a series written by participants of the FAO Regional Biotech Conference for Africa held in Addis Ababa on November 22-24, 2017. 

 

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