NEWS: Experts say biotechnology, key to food, nutrition and financial security in Africa

(Sep 30, 2022) Africa needs the right policy environment to harness and optimize benefits accruing from agricultural biotechnology, innovation and emerging technologies for rural economic transformation, experts said Friday.

Addressing the 7th Calestous Juma Executive Dialogue (CJED) forum on Nutrition and Food Security taking place in Nairobi, Kenya, Dr. Kanangire, Executive Director of the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) said agricultural biotechnology would increase crop yields through development of drought-tolerant and pest and disease-resistant crops that perform better and yield more.

He said biotech crops had the twin dividend of enhancing food security and mitigating impacts of climate change in Africa. However, he pointed out that biotechnology alone was not a panacea for Africa’s agricultural productivity challenges.

“Frequent drought as a result of climate change, the emergence of new pests and diseases like the Fall Armyworm, use of harmful pesticides, and low productivity due to degraded soil nutrients, are some of the persistent challenges facing agriculture sector in Africa,” he said.

According to experts, fruitful collaborations with African governments and institutions in the last 10 years had yielded seed varieties that were more productive, resistant to pests, disease and drought. For example, the Pod Borer Resistant Cowpea which was released in Nigeria in 2019 and is resistant to maruca vitrata, a pest that targets legumes.

The Pod Borer Resistant Bt Cowpea yields six times higher than the conventional varieties, with an average harvest of two tons per hectare compared to the latter’s 0.35 tons per hectare, it said. The PBR Cowpea has also reduced use of pesticides from eight times per cropping season to only two times, making the variety very cost-effective.

Research for a similar product is underway in Ghana and Burkina Faso. Dr. Kanangire said most African countries have signed and ratified the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety for appropriate handling and utilization of genetically modified organisms to reduce risks to humans and the environment.

“Investment in biotechnology research will produce a critical mass of expertise to enable the continent to exploit the benefits of the technology in improving agricultural productivity among farmers,” said Dr. Kanangire.

This article was originally published in the Daily Nation Online

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