RWANDA – Rwanda has joined seven other African countries in forming a country chapter of the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB), a platform that creates awareness on agricultural biotechnology in Africa, gesticulating its growing receptivity toward agricultural biotechnology.
OFAB has chapters in Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda and Tanzania.
“By embracing technological upgrading and building capacity for our farmers and rural value chain actors, I believe they will make informed decisions to be at par with the rest of African countries who are already benefiting from agricultural biotechnology, such as South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, among others,” said Dr. Geraldine Mukeshimana, Rwanda’s Minister for Agriculture and Animal Resources.
She noted that Africa has yet to adopt agricultural biotechnology in an optimal way as one of the solutions to food production challenges, due to the bad press genetically modified (GM) products have received for the past decades.
“It is worth noting that the food import bill for Africa rose to US$49 billion in 2019 from US$35 billion in 2015. We need to use homegrown scientists’ innovations to help reduce the food import bill and to repurpose these savings to other socio-economic programmes,” she said.
The Minister voiced that by joining OFAB, Rwanda has achieved a great milestone that allows agricultural stakeholders to interact and share knowledge on crop and livestock biotechnology, she noted.
“This knowledge is critical to the stakeholder who needs to make informed decisions amidst misconceptions about biotechnology,” she said.
OFAB was established by the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) in 2006 as a platform for advancing stakeholder interactions on agriculture biotechnology. OFAB also intends to expand its outreach through the establishment of new chapters in Malawi and Mozambique.
AATF is an African-led NGO that works in 23 countries, including Rwanda, to empower smallholder farmers through access to technologies that can improve their livelihoods
OFAB lends Rwanda a voice in biotech talks
Biotechnology is the most suitable tool to spur sustainable development in Africa, Mukeshimana said, noting that the OFAB collaboration puts Rwanda on the same level as other African countries that are using various platforms to engage the public about opportunities in biotechnology, to mitigate agricultural production challenges.
The Rwanda OFAB chapter will be hosted by the Rwanda Agriculture and Animal Resources Development Board (RAB) and will work to enhance awareness and science-based knowledge agricultural innovations.
“The collaboration supports Rwanda’s commitment to improve the lives of its smallholder farmers as captured in its Strategic Plan for Agriculture Transformation-2018-2024 (PSTA4),” said Dr. Canisius Kanangire, AATF executive director.
Kanangire said that although Rwanda is active on the biotechnology front with tissue culture work, it is still not engaged in commercial production of any genetically modified crops.
“But the country has made important steps towards establishment of the necessary legal and regulatory framework through the Biosafety Law, as well as the National Strategy for Implementation of Biosafety Framework,” he pointed out.
The Rwanda OFAB chapter launch comes at a time when Africa’s agriculture-dependent economy is facing myriad production challenges, including climate change, new pests and diseases and finite farm land. These challenges require special attention to enable optimal production yields that are also friendly to the environment.
With the launch, Rwanda agriculture stakeholders will get a chance to participate in conversations on the role of science technology and innovation, particularly biotechnology, in the transformation of agriculture in Africa.
The establishment of the OFAB Rwanda chapter will also help close the information gap around agricultural biotechnology and demystify the attendant myths and misconceptions.