7 billion is a lot of people to feed , our world population right now. According to the UN , with high birth rates in developing nations, we will need to feed more than 9 billion people by 2050.
In the past one decade, information on transgenic crops, foods and feed has been caught up in a maelstrom of controversy. Misperceptions have been transported to Africa, allowing the benefits of biotechnology to be overtaken by concerns on risk to human health, environmental impact, increased economic power of multinational corporations, deterioration in food quality, threat to traditional farming and rural society, and general moral acceptability. ABSF believes that biotechnology research will play an important role in changing perceptions by explicitly bringing out accurate and balanced information on the true nature of the technology and its potential benefits to society.
However, as widely appreciated, different countries are at different levels in terms of biotechnology development and awareness. Globally, Africa shows the least level of biotechnology development as demonstrated by the least acreage under genetically modified crops, and the rather slow pace in establishing biotechnology legislations. This slow development may be attributed to limited availability of Africa-specific data needed for guiding decision making. Unfortunately, lack of this data has also created room for circulation of inaccurate information on the costs and benefits of biotechnology, essentially contributing to the slow uptake of the technology in Africa. Some stakeholders have argued against biotechnology, saying the data available is not relevant to Africa because it was generated from foreign countries, whose agro-climatic and socio-economic conditions are far different from the African situation.
To enhance biotechnology development, change perceptions and promote adoption of biotechnology on the continent, it is crucial that timely, sufficient and accurate Africa- specific data, generated mostly from Africa, be gathered and made readily accessible to all the biotechnology stakeholders (Policy makers, farmers, consumers, civil societies and regulators among others). This will show relevance of the various biotechnology applications to African problems, thereby promoting accurate and prompt decision making. In response to this need for Africa specific information, ABSF has, as part of the long term strategy, expanded her flagship areas to include biotechnology research. The main biotechnology research pillars/thematic areas that our program targets include:
For instance, perception studies in Europe and the United States provided these parts of the world with valuable and often detailed information that they used to develop more effective risk communication, consequently enhancing acceptance. It is however not clear what percentage of Africans are willing to buy and eat genetically modified foods, what specific fears they have and what particular traits they consider desirable.
Given the fact that different communities may desire different traits, it is important that focused research be carried out on a continuous basis to determine what fears and expectations Africans have about biotechnology and the basis for such attitudes. Addressing these fears and expectations from a point of adequate information will enhance acceptance and foster adoption of biotechnology.
Though people of different educational backgrounds tend to familiarize themselves with most of the new and emerging scientific developments, it is impossible for them to be at the same level in terms of knowledge on biotechnology.
Results from consumer surveys in Western countries reveal some basic conclusions about consumer attitudes towards agricultural biotechnology. First, consumers do not agree about whether biotech foods are harmful or not. Second, a small group of people strongly oppose biotechnology.
Third, the majority of consumers are uninformed about the technology and how food is produced. Unfortunately, relatively small but vocal anti-biotechnology activist groups have utilized these knowledge gaps to successfully influence public opinion. Taking this into account, ABSF believes that it is important for continuous knowledge surveys to be carried out in Africa.
Such surveys will help establish the level of biotechnology knowledge held by the public, the particular areas of knowledge deficiencies, and the appropriate ways to capacity build the different sections of the public on relevant issues of biotechnology.
Such studies will demonstrate that prudent introduction and promotion of new biotechnological innovations in farming can make a positive contribution to the socio-economic status of resource poor farmers in developing countries in Africa.
The results from other regions of the world show that biotechnological applications offer relatively higher financial returns than non-biotech production. Data on the adoption of biotechnology in crop production e.g. tissue culture bananas in Africa show positive change in farm income.
Such socio-economic studies will make a contribution to current debates at both national and international levels as to whether biotechnology can make a difference in uplifting the living standards of people in sub Saharan Africa. ABSF will continue to undertake such studies to build on existing knowledge and build the case for biotechnology adoption in Africa.
Biotech crops contribute to some of the major challenges facing global society, including food security, high food prices, sustainability, alleviation of poverty and hunger, and mitigation of some challenges associated with climate change.
The innovations that hold the greatest promises for smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa are those that tackle production constraints in both food and cash crops, but pose little risk of endangering trade.Little has been documented at the farm-level on the possible bottlenecks on the adoption of transgenic varieties of staple food crops such as maize.
In addition, few biotechnology products have been released to farmers in less industrialized agricultural economies until recently, and most economic analyses of impacts have been conducted primarily on experiences in the U.S., with commercial crops.
Empirical evidence on adoption of cash crops such as Bt cotton in Argentina, China, India, Mexico and South Africa is steadily growing. ABSF recognizes the importance of documenting the pattern of biotechnology development and the reasons behind such a pattern. We believe this information will be crucial in tackling the bottlenecks hindering biotechnology development especially in developing countries.
Knowledge on the specific type of inputs needed and their potential in the various regions will go a long way in enhancing agricultural productivity in Africa. Unfortunately, there is no data available that captures the divergent agro-ecological conditions and socio-economic needs.
ABSF recognizes the significance of such data. We believe that such information would enable the right biotechnology inputs to reach the right users. ABSF is therefore collaborating with key stakeholders to categorize and document the agro-ecological zones along with the varying socio-economic setups in Africa. This information will be used to advocate for targeted research aimed at getting the suitable biotechnology inputs.
To guarantee success, ABSF has adopted farmer participatory approaches. We have set up demonstration plots for various biotechnological applications so that farmers can chose the varieties that best suit their needs and resource base. This will continue to expand and cover genetically modified crops as they get released to the market.
Both young and experienced science researchers are encouraged to partner with ABSF in carrying out innovative research aimed at crop and animal improvement, using biotechnology. In addition to assisting individual scientists in fundraising for their research projects, ABSF will also provide supervisory personnel drawn from a wide range of experienced biological science associates attached to the ABSF graduate research program.
Students interested in this program will have their institution of higher learning develop and sign a memorandum of understanding to guide in the research process. Ultimately, ABSF will seek to establish a Biotechnology Research Trust Fund (BRTF) resulting from some recommendations made from the 1st All Africa Congress in Biotechnology.
This trust fund will act as a resource pool for biotechnology research project graduate students, who will have to make applications requesting for funding to undertake active student based research through ABSF and its affiliate institutions.
We believe a reliable base of agricultural biotechnology information is necessary if Africans are to adequately understand the potential benefits that biotechnology can bring to its struggling and food insecure continent.
Similarly, adequate information on biosafety issues will ensure that any potential risk associated with biotechnology applications is mitigated to avoid any inherent effects on human health and the environment.The Agricultural Biotechnology Network in Africa ( ABNETA ) that is managed by ABSF has been specifically designed to ensure that biotechnology information is freely disseminated to all stakeholders who wish to obtain accurate and reliable biotechnology data.
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