Taking Agricultural Biotechnology and Biosafety Awareness to the Grassroots where it matters: A case of OFAB Ethiopia

By Dr Tadessa Daba

Before the inception of the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB) chapter in Ethiopia, there was no platform to share information, knowledge and discuss the issues of biosafety regulation.  Luckily, African Agriculture Technology Foundation (AATF) accepted Ethiopia to join OFAB in 2014. Then various networking among biotech-affiliated professionals and discussion forums were created because of this project. Gradually, the professionals took the issue to the respective regulatory authority and ultimately to the policymakers.

In the due process, biotech professionals and the members of the parliament have repeatedly joined and discussed on the biosafety framework in the country. The professionals have advocated enough and finally, the biosafety regulation was amended in 2015. At this scale OFAB has played a leading role in facilitating the discussions and advocacy and consequently the amendment happened as key achievement.  This has opened the gateway to look for research on genetically modified Bt-cotton. An Indian technology company, JK Agrigenetics has been contacted for Bt-cotton and the first Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) crop trial was started in Ethiopia.

Following this, voices against biotechnology evolved. Civic societies and consumer associations have begun using private media advocating against biotechnology in the country. Influential persons and institutes affiliated to biodiversity and environment came forefront on various platforms to defend the use of modern biotechnology. Consequently, some policymakers and officials were challenged with the deliberate misinformation to make proper decision on genetically modified living organisms.

OFAB-Eth has strategized engagement of policy makers, officials and regulators as a priority and facilitated experience sharing and seeing is believing visits to India, United States of America and in-country Bt-cotton Confined Field Trials (CFTs). Widening this knowledge and confidence was found to be paramount important.

Sidewise, the OFAB-Eth chapter has devised a strategy of nationwide raising awareness on agricultural biotechnology and biosafety regulations. For this, establishing Nodes was found to be the best strategy. Then, re-known public universities representing geographical regions were selected and seven OFAB Nodes as sub- platforms were created in the selected universities having biotechnology units. These nodes are clusters of universities, research centers, development bureaus, affiliated institutes and other stakeholders in the respective geographic locations. Progressively, a working agreement have been signed with OFAB in engaging all the stakeholders in their vicinities on biotechnology and biosafety trainings, science reporting, advocacy and communication

Currently, many other special permits for CFTs were granted and trials on genetically modified crops are being conducted and few environmental releases were approved for commercialization. As the result of the establishment of the Nodes, stakeholders in the country are increasingly aware of the importance of biotechnology and its potential applications in attaining food and nutrition security in the country.