E-Consultation: The Role Of Biotechnology For Food And Nutrition Security In Africa

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The Scinnovent Centre conducted a two-week e-consultation survey between 5th June 2014 and  20th June 2014. The consultation which focused on the role of biotechnology in enhancing food and nutrition security in Africa,  looked into the current state of innovations, policies and markets. We specifically sought to highlight the successes and achievements that have resulted from biotechnology applications and in effect celebrate the strides Africa has made so far in harnessing and benefiting from this technology. the objective of the e-consultation was to draw attention to the main developments in research, technology and innovation currently being applied in Africa, and the policies that have created a conducive environment for their development. In addition to that, the Scinnovent Centre sought information on the current markets and opportunities for regional trade.
 The Scinnovent Centre’s Facebook page was used as the central channel of communication with the participants. In an effort to easily lead traffic to the survey, a link was provided via Facebook and a tab labelled ‘ASRD Survey’ was embedded on the website. As a regular reminder to the online community to participate in the survey, a series of biotechnology questions was periodically posted, to prompt readers to visit the site and take part in the survey.
For purposes of our report, we ensured that personal details were obligatory. The biotechnology questions conversely, were optional, short and precise to allow our respondents to answer questions they had answers to, within the shortest time possible. These questions included the following:

  1. The kind of biotechnology innovations (including technologies, products, processes, services etc) that have been used/applied for enhancing food and nutrition security in Africa
  2. The innovative research projects/activities which are currently on going in Africa (including in the universities, public research institutes, private companies, NGOs, multinational firms etc) and how are they likely to impact on food and nutrition security in Africa
  3. Situations where the government policies and regulations have led to successful deployment of biotechnology in Africa
  4. Areas where biotechnology stakeholders (whether from academia, NGOs, private sector, consumers etc) have successfully influenced government policies and regulations in support of biotechnology
  5. Cases where trading in biotechnology products have led to increased market access, better prices, and cheaper inputs
  6. The cases of cross-national trade in biotechnology products in Africa, and determine whether they have been quantified or studied
  7. The key issues that African policymakers and regulatory agencies should address in order to enhance the potential for biotechnology to better contribute to food and nutrition security in the continent

A total of 41 respondents from 17 different nations participated in the survey. the nations represented included Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Canada, Ethiopia, Germany, Guinea, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Mozambique, Nepal, Nigeria, Switzerland, Tanzania, Uganda, United Kingdom and Zimbabwe.

From the survey, it was established that there are various interesting research and innovations going on in the continent. However, the continent unfortunately lacks adequate policies and regulations to support biotechnology even as countries such as South Africa are experiencing increased farmer profits due to biotechnology. Lack of favorable policies has led to limited cross-national trade in biotechnology food products, which has in turn led to most of the projects stalling at the research stage.

On 3rd September 2014, the Scinnovent Centre attended a symposium on the Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) ban in Kenya to validate a white paper on Kenya’s scientific community position on GMOs. Represneted by Dr. Maurice Bolo and Vivian Achieng, the Scinnovent Centre sought to understand the experts’ opinion on the role biotechnology plays in food and nutrition security in Africa. According to these experts from both the academic and research institutions in Kenya, biotechnology can certainly contribute to food security by raising farmers’ yields and fight malnutrition by increasing nutrient contents of basic foods. Ongoing projects to help achieve a food secure continent include the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA), which aims to develop drought-tolerant and insect-resistant maize in several countries in the continent as well as bio-fortified sorghum and banana which will be resistant to banana bacterial wilt.

Evidently, Africa is sitting on the potential positive effects of biotechnology in terms of food and nutrition security as well as expansion of trade opportunities. Focus should be on formulating complimentary policies in biotechnology based on evidence to support this sub-sector of the economy.