Capacity building

Capacity Building
Effective development and application of biotechnology in response to Africa’s needs in food security, environmental sustainability and human health, among other areas presupposes existence of adequate capacity. Such capacity entails infrastructure for the transfer of relevant technologies from the more technologically advanced nations, and institutions to serve the purposes of local adoption and integration of the know-how for biotechnology application. African nations seeking to benefits from biotechnology must have the capacity to understand their own ecosystems in order to select, acquire, manage and further develop those biotechnologies most suitable to their individual needs.

ABSF has the role of promoting capacity development in order to ensure safe development and application of biotechnology. Bearing this in mind, we continually develop and strengthen our own internal capacity so as to effectively design and implement relevant programmes that will enable effective integration of biotechnology. We believe that strengthening our own individual capacity should be the starting point. This is closely followed by an undertaking of needs assessment as a basis for individual national strategies and resources allocation. ABSF assesses pre-existing capacities through stakeholder engagement, enabling us to identify areas that require additional training. We thereafter develop and implement plans to satisfy needs on priority basis.
ABSF promotes development of national capacities aimed at enhancing:
• Biotechnology education, training and research
• Biosafety and bioethics risk assessment
• Development and implementation of policies/regulatory regimes to manage risks.

After identifying some issues that hinder the progress of biotechnology adoption, ABSF designed various outreach activities aimed at enhancing the capacity of key stakeholders. We believe that by giving them a comprehensive understanding of all aspects of biotechnology, this will foster positive dialogue paving way for
capacity building programs that offer all stakeholders a comprehensive understanding of all aspects in biotechnology. The current workshops being pursued by ABSF include:
outreach towards a better understanding of biotech crops and supported capacity-building activities to foster a science-based, functional regulatory framework.

Scientists show the least incentive to communicate with the public, a problem that may emanate from their education and training. However, given the controversial nature of biotechnology and the political issues surrounding it, it is imperative that scientists participate and contribute in this discourse.

These workshops equip scientists with better communication skills and encourage them to adjust their scientific vernacular into lay terms, as well as enlighten them on how the media operates. ABSF believes that when researchers are able to clearly articulate their research, it brings about has a positive knock-on effect on policy formulation.

• Capacity Building for the Media The media play an important role of keeping its citizenry up to date on issues affecting society. They have the power to shape public opinion. As a result, ensuring that journalists and editors understand the role that biotechnology can play towards food security and national development is paramount.

These workshops, that are guided by a curriculum, are used to inform media professionals on advancements in biotechnology as well train them on how to relate with scientists, how to read and analyse scientific papers, the nature of science and the scientific method and the ethics of science reporting. The workshops are designed to equip the media with tools and skills that enable them to adequately inform the public on biotechnology issues, as well as initiate conducive dialogue that promote prompt and accurate decision making.

We are trying to identify and develop technologies that farmers can use to improve their livelihood. Therefore, farmers are our biggest clients and educating them about these technologies is important. In order to keep them abreast on biotechnology issues, ABSF conducts farmer capacity building workshops on tissue culture bananas and Bt Cotton.

The tissue culture banana project not only changed farmers’ lives, it also played a pivotal role in changing perceptions by demonstrating to them the promises of biotechnology. Kenya expects to commercialise Bt Cotton in 2014. Therefore, in order to prepare the farmers beforehand, ABSF started conducting Bt Cotton workshops in cotton growing areas in 2010. The timing for these workshops was planned to ensure that we empower our famers with knowledge and skills, whilst avoiding too much anticipation and unrealistic expectations.

Extension workers are usually the first line of professionals approached by the community for information about new technologies.

Training and equipping such extension workers with the right information and skills about biotechnology ensures that farmers and other biotechnology stakeholders receive timely information needed for effective adoption and application of new technologies. ABSF capacity builds the extension workers through workshops, dissemination of biotechnology literature and exposure to new technologies through seeing-is-believing tours.

Educators play a crucial role in laying the foundation for a society that is expected to make important decisions related to science and technology. However, they often face various challenges that hinder their effectiveness, the most critical being the fear and misunderstanding of biotechnology, coupled by limited access to current information and relevant resource material on topical issues. To overcome this, ABSF supports teachers by providing them with information materials and linkages to a broad network of experts.

In Africa, religion plays a central and definitive role in the lives of many and any advice given by religious leaders is usually taken as gospel truth. Acknowledging the central role of religion in the African context, and recognising the pivotal role that it plays in societal decision making, ABSF believes that training religious leaders on the role of biotechnology in food security is of utmost importance. A lot of mistrust in biotechnology is hinged on beliefs that the science is ‘playing God’. We believe that the ideal people to clarify and demystify these deeply rooted philosophies are religious leaders. ABSF therefore strives to engage them on this matter and willingly provides them scientifically sound information regarding biotechnology research and ethics.