Speakers at an International short course for Policy Makers in Ghana and Nigeria say biotechnology may not be a panacea for food security in Africa but very essential.
With 65 per cent of Africa’s labour workforce employed by agriculture coupled with aging farmers, climate change, drought and famine and the youth shunning agriculture, Biotech stands to optimise productivity and contribute to food, feed and fiber security.
The global challenge of doubling food by 2050 with less resources in water and Africa’s population is estimated to reach four million in 2100; there is the need to adopt a crop improvement strategy that integrates the best of conventional and the best of the new (Biotech) to optimise productivity and contribute to food, feed and fiber security and address climate change, they noted.
Biotechnology is the use of living organisms to produce a product or service such as tools of tissue culture, molecular characterisation for identification purposes in plant breeding, diagnostics, fermentation and genetic engineering.
The three- day biotechnology short course is been organised by NEPAD Agency Africa Biosafety Network of Expertise in collaboration with University of Ghana (UG) Legon, and Michigan State University (MSU).
The course seeks to provide a platform that would empower key stakeholders within the Biosafety systems in Ghana and Nigeria with current information on safe management of modern biotechnology to enable them effectively support regulatory process.
The course would specifically provide participants with evidence based information on biosafety and biotechnology to help demystify the science as well as increase awareness among key actors on the significance of having functional regulatory systems for biotechnology.
Dr Alfred Sugri Tia, Deputy Minister of Ministry of Environment Science, Technology and Innovation (MESTI) noted that the safe adoption of biotechnology calls for training, awareness, and sensitisation of stakeholders in the face of perception people have about genetically modified organisms ( GMOs) as Africa strives to enhance food security.
Professor Ebenezer Owusu, Provost of the College of Basic and Applied Sciences, UG, said Ghana and Africa should embrace the new wave of change to move forward.
He said with the issue of GMOs is becoming topical and the stiff opposition to the plant breeders bill there is the need for awareness creation on biotechnology.
Dr Steve Hanson, Associate Provost and Dean of International Studies and Programmes, MSU said the university is committed with working with Africa universities to help own programmes using science to solve complex problems.
He said biotechnology has the potential for food security in Africa and that the MSU has trained about 1500 scientists, regulators and policy makers from more than 60 countries.
“Our ultimate goal is to enhance food security on the African continent through new science and technology.
“The problem we face requires interdisciplinary approaches and multidisciplinary collaborations by adapting the knowledge we generate to local context,” he said.
Professor Diran Makinde, Director of African Biotech Network of Expertise, said it is important for African countries to have reliable systems to monitor developments in biotechnology to ensure successes in health, food security, biodiversity and trade.
He said in the face of opposition and activism, evidence based decisions is appropriate to sustain the tempo in public awareness on the safety of GMOs adding that what Africa needs to do is monitor local seed companies so that seeds are not adulterated.
With more than a 100- fold from 1.7 to 181.5 Metric per hectare (M ha) biotech has become the fastest adopted crop technology according to the Global Status of Biotech Crops.
The report quotes Biotech (BT) cotton farmers in Burkina Faso as saying that cultivating BT cotton is less tedious, more yield, increased income for buying equipment and education their children as well as taking care of their families.
The yield from BT cotton has increased to 4 tonnes per hectare “The yield from my BT cotton crop has increased from 500 feddans (200 ha) to 1000 feddans (420 ha)
With a 100-fold increase in biotech crops, hectarage improved from 1.7 million hectares in 1996 to 170 million hectares in 2012, making biotech crops the fastest adopted technology in recent world.
Biotechnology has therefore become one of the tools to be used in pursuit of global food security since conventional crops alone could not feed the world’s population. GNA