AFRICA – African countries hosting the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB), a project of the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), have designated September 28 as a day to celebrate strides in agricultural biotechnology recorded by various chapters of the organization.
OFAB facilitates constructive conversations among key stakeholders and decision-makers on agricultural biotechnology. For both policymakers and the larger public, OFAB facilitates quality engagements and conversations on the safety and benefits of modern biotechnology.
It is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) and is being implemented in seven countries- Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Nigeria, Ghana, Burkina Faso and Ethiopia.
Speaking during the inaugural OFAB Day programme, themed – ‘Celebrating strides in bridging the knowledge gap in agricultural biotechnology towards agricultural transformation in Africa’, the Executive Director of AATF, Dr. Canisius Kanangire, said OFAB has played a big role in developing and commercializing biotechnology products.
In terms of policy and regulatory achievements made by OFAB, Nigeria has passed the Biosafety Bill, and recently became the first country globally to release the first Pod Borer Resistant Cowpea for commercialization. Kenya has released approval of the first Bt Maize and commercialization of Bt Cotton. According to Science Nigeria, Ghana passed the Biosafety Legislative Instrument in 2019 and Plant Variety Act in 2020.
On the other hand, Burkina Faso supported the creation of Africa Biotech Network to promote the safe use of biotechnology. In Tanzania, the Ministry of Agriculture formally requested the Ministry of Environment to review the Biosafety Regulations in order to allow for commercial release of locally developed biotech crops.
In addition to continuing its activities in the African countries, OFAB launched the Media Annual Awards in 2017 to recognize and award journalists across Africa for their excellence in biotechnology reporting that seeks to promote best practices in biotechnology reporting.
Dr. Wilber Ottichilo, Governor, Vihiga County in Kenya commended OFAB for bringing in new technology, putting very complicated technology in a simpler language, acting as a mediator and being able to bring various stakeholders together to discuss and understand the importance and the risks of biotechnology in order to move forward.
Dr. Canisius revealed the organization’s plan to stretch its reach to three additional countries – Mozambique, Rwanda and Malawi – where its chapters will be launched before the end of 2021 and 2022.
“AATF will collaborate with relevant stakeholders in the journey to advance agricultural biotechnology. We are willing to contribute significantly to transforming the agriculture sector and filling the gaps in other African countries,” he added.
In his remarks, OFAB project manager, Vitumbiko Chinoko, pointed out that Africa continues to be food insecure despite her enormous potentials because she is not deploying enough technology to tackle her agricultural challenges.
Delivering his address, the director-general of the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA), Prof. Abdullahi Mustapha, said OFAB in Africa has become synonymous with biotechnology, genetic modification, gene editing and all other tools capable of enhancing agricultural productivity.
“In Nigeria, issues of biotechnology and genetic engineering were totally absent in public discuss until OFAB came to the scene. With OFAB, the country is more at home with biotechnology,” he said.
Mustapha thanked the AATF for the initiative and the BMGF for funding the platform. He also thanked the programme for Biosafety Systems (PBS) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Nigerian OFAB family that transformed the platform into a goal-getter and a pacesetter.