INTRODUCTION. The 8th AU summit held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in January, 2007, endorsed the development of a 20-year African Biotechnology Strategy with specific regional technology goals, and to develop and harmonize national and regional regulations that promote the application and safe use of modern biotechnology. This initiative should help to realize the MDGs of halving the number of poor and hungry people by 2015.
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1. OPPORTUNITIES FOR BIOTECH RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT IN AFRICA: ISSUES AND OPTIONS UN ECA, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Prof. Walter S. Alhassan
PBS Coordinator for West Africa
FARA/PBS, Accra, Ghana.
2. INTRODUCTION The 8th AU summit held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in January, 2007, endorsed
the development of a 20-year African Biotechnology Strategy with specific regional technology goals, and to develop and harmonize national and regional regulations that promote the application and safe use of modern biotechnology.
This initiative should help to realize the MDGs of halving the number of poor and hungry people by 2015
3. BENEFITS AND RISKS ASSOCIATED WITH BIOTECH
Biotechnology has been defined as a set of tools that uses living organisms (or part of organisms) to make or modify a product, improve plants, trees or animals, or develop microorganisms for specific uses.
4. Biotechnology Tools Tissue culture and micro-propagation
Marker Assisted Selection
Monoclonal Antibody for Diagnostics
or Transformation or Recombinant DNA
5. Biotechnology Tools
Genetic engineering and GM crops
Genetic engineering is a powerful tool that is used to move genes from one species into another by artificial means. The species may or may not be related. Wide species crossing that is possible with genetic engineering (GE) is almost impossible under natural means of hybridization. It raises safety concerns to the environment and human health
7. Benefits from GM technology As lessons of the Green Revolution have shown, its impact depends on three conditions:
first, that the technology is relevant to those farmers and affordable;
second, that the technology is scale neutral;
and third, that the existing socio-economic environment (such as access to markets, information or inputs) is not heavily biased against small-scale farms.
8. Benefits associated with GM technology Plants may be genetically engineered to produce:
Own toxins e.g. Bt proteins
Efficient nitrogen utilization
Powerful diagnostic tools
9. Benefits associated with GM technology Products on the horizon from gene technology that will revolutionize agriculture in Africa for the poor are drought tolerant and nitrogen efficient crops and biofortified crops.
An on-going initiative in Africa for biofortification is the biofortified sorghum project financed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and coordinated by Africa Harvest.
10. Secondary Benefits Reduced carbon emission –zero tillage
Water conservation- drought tolerant crops
Reduces soil degradation-zero tillage
Reduces Nitrogen fertilizer use from nitrogen-efficient crops
Enhanced biofuel production
Healthier farm labour from reduced pesticide use.
11. PERCEIVED RISKS ASSOCIATED WITH GMOS IN AGRICULTURE: Change in biodiversity from gene flow
Human health- toxicity and allergenecity
Social implications from the effect on biodiversity; loss of livelihood; perceived dominance from multi-nationals.
Containment and confinement
Genetic manipulation such as chloroplast transformation and GURT or Terminator technology. No Terminator Gene product on the market yet.
12. GLOBAL STATUS OF BIOTECH CROPS: 2007 The phenomenal growth in the cultivation of GM or biotech crops that was noticed in the first decade (1996-2005) continues into the second decade (2006-2015). The 2007 world status of GM crops shows a 12% or 12.3 million hectares in the cultivation of GM crops over the 2006. Currently 114.3 million hectares (James, 2007).
The crops grown are roundup ready soybean, Bt maize, Bt cotton and Bt canola.
South Africa, the only country in Africa commercializing GM crops in 2007 cultivated 1.8 million hectares of GM crops most of which is white maize used for food and the remainder cotton. All categories of farmers in South Africa grow biotech crops.
Burkina Faso is expected to commercialise Bt cotton this year.
13. OPPORTUNITIES FOR BIOTECHNOLOGY RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT IN AFRICA Persistent low yield of cereals around 1 mt/ha.
Existence of biotic and abiotic stresses.
In sub-Sahara Africa, various sub-regional institutions exist that address capacity building in biotechnology and biosafety.
Positive pronouncements on biotechnology development.
14. Sub-regional initiatives West Africa CORAF/WECARD
The objective of the ECOWAS plan is to establish a regional approach to biotechnology and biosafety.
The implementing agent for this on behalf of ECOWAS is the INSAH/CILSS.
- the Framework Convention Introducing a Common Biosafety Regulation for the Prevention of Biotechnology Risks,
-Framework Convention Instituting Common Regulations for Conventional and Transgenic Seeds and
-the Structure and Operation of the Regional Consultative Committee for Seeds and Biosafety.
15. Sub-regional initiatives West Africa West Africa Regional Biosafety Project
The objective of the project is to establish a regional capability in biosafety among the francophone economic union in West Africa, the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU). This is a 4-year $4,500 project to be funded by the Global Environment Facility for the benefit of 5 of the 8 countries forming the WAEMU (www.gefweb.org/documents/council_documents).
16. Sub-regional initiatives East Africa RABESA INITIATIVE
The Regional Approach to Biotechnology and Biosafety Policy in Eastern and Southern Africa (RABESA) is a COMESA driven project designed to examine the implications of modern biotechnology on trade, food security and access to emergency food aid.
This is a 2-year initiative from 2004 to 2006. It involved six countries- Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Egypt and Zambia.
It findings were that with the exception of Egypt which exports about 47 % of GM sensitive commodities to Europe the likely adverse impact of GM crops would be minimal.
17. Sub-regional initiatives East Africa BIO-EARN
This is the East Africa Regional Programme and Research Network for Biotechnology, Biosafety and Biotechnology Policy Development (BIOEARN). It operates in Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.
The capacity building phase (1999-2004) trains high level manpower up to the PhD level in various aspects of biotechnology.
The Phase II (2006-2009) is designed to enhance agricultural productivity, clean water production and the reduction of environmental damage all applying biotechnology tools.
18. Sub-regional initiatives Southern Africa FANRPAN (the Food Agriculture Natural Resources Policy Research and Analysis Network) in SADC Region.
It has two product lines, namely, agricultural biotechnology and biosafety issues and the improvement of food security in the SADC Region. Pilot or trial countries: Malawi, Mauritius and South Africa
19. Sub-regional initiatives Southern Africa Key Lessons from FANRPAN are that:
Most Countries in SADC, except SA, still taking a precautionary approach
Need to integrate social scientists into GMO research and promotion – “social marketing”
Embrace opposition through multi-stakeholder dialogues that highlight benefits and respond accurately to concerns
Policy Briefs for decision makers
Strategic partnerships and institutional arrangements -
Building credibility and legitimacy through evidence-based research
and a robust communication strategy
20. AFRICA WIDE INITIATIVES Manpower Training Initiatives
the Rockefeller Foundation Initiative in Capacity Building in Africa MSc and PhD. Molecular Breeding, Conventional Plant Breeding. Focus is East Africa.
West Africa Crop Improvement Initiative (WACCI)
PhD in conventional Plant Breeding. To be launched on March 11 ’08. Funded by RF and Bill/Melinda Gates Foundation.
21. AFRICA WIDE INITIATIVES FARA ABBI
The African Biotechnology and Biosafety Initiative (ABBI) is one of the network support projects of FARA. Will create a forum where various sub-regions can share information and experiences on agricultural biotechnology and biosafety.
NEPAD Biosciences Centers
A network of bioscience laboratories and expertise in the biosciences has been established in the 4 sub-regions of Africa. Except for the one in Eastern Africa, BECA, these have been newly established and yet to start program implementation.
22. AFRICA WIDE INITIATIVES PBS
This is a 5-year capacity building program in biosafety funded by the USAID. It started in 2003.
This also started in 2003 as a sister project to the PBS. It is designed to build capacity in the introduction of near term biotechnology products or services. Assisted the Uganda black sigatoka resistant GM banana development and field testing and in the tomato YLCV virus control project in Mali and selected WA countries.
This is a public-private sector non-profit initiative that facilitates the negotiation and transfer proprietary technologies on a royalty-free basis for the development of agriculture for the benefit of the resource-poor farmers and others in Africa. Bt gene from Monsanto cowpea.
23. LESSONS FROM OTHER DEVELOPING WORLD China: with the exception of some varieties of Bt cotton, all the biotech crops commercialized in China have been developed by Chinese state institutions with public sector funding.
Argentina: the rapid adoption of RR-soybean due in part to:
-a well-established seed industry,
-a regulatory system that provided a responsible timely and cost-effective system for approving biotech products and
-a technology with high impact.
Brazil: high political will and support for biotechnology. Recent funding equivalent to US$7 billion (60% and 40% private) and prorated at US$700 million per year for the next 10 years has been announced.
24. WAY FORWARD Africa needs to re-double its efforts in the acquisition of the capacity for the judicious utilization of all the tools of modern biotechnology to solve the farming problems of the sub-region. The following holistic arrangements must be harnessed as the way forward:
User friendly Biosafety Legislative framework in place,
Vigorous training of scientists, technicians and the provision of functional laboratories
Enhanced service conditions;
Development of a viable seed sector;
Credit and input supply facilitation for agriculture;
25. WAY FORWARD market infrastructure development and stimulation of inter-African trade.
Increased budgetary allocation to agriculture and rural development;
increased south-south and north-south collaboration in science and technology with the emphasis on biotechnology.
A country strategically placing itself in the forefront of science and technology cannot afford not to have research programmes in agricultural biotechnology. A country that does otherwise may miss the gene revolution.