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November 28th, 2012

Last week, a joint workshop “Governance of Science, Technologies and Innovation including Genetics for Farming, Biotechnologies, Nanotechnologies and Indigenous Knowledge” with the European Academies Science Advisory Council (EASAC), National Academies Sciences in Africa (NASAC), African Technology Policy Studies (ATPS), Malaysian Commonweatlh Study Centre, Cambridge, and B4FA was held at the African Union Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Scientists from across Africa shared and analysed the latest research about plant genetics for farming, biotechnology and nanotechnology.  The group discussed the future for plant breeding, including whether these technologies will or will not gain momentum in Africa.  While these technologies could help improve food security, workshop participants also noted that any risks specifically related to the use of these innovations in Africa would need consideration.

Several speakers gave presentations on the status of biotechnology research and innovation in their countries, including Nigeria, Ghana, Tanzania and Kenya:

  1. Dr Roshan Abdallah, Tanzania Tropical Pesticides Research Institute (TPRI), Arusha, Tanzania. Preparedness of Tanzania to utilize GM technology
  2. Professor Walter Alhassan. Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), Ghana. Current Situation on GM research and innovation in Ghana
  3. Dr. Andrew Kiggundu,  National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO), Current Situation on GM Research in Uganda
  4. Dr. Douglas W. Miano Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), Biotechnology Centre, Kenya. Virus Resistant Cassava (VIRCA) project and issues arising
  5. Prof. M. I. Uguru. Dept. of Crop Science, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Nigeria: Current Situation on GM research and innovation in Ghana and the region (opportunities and challenges)

The results of this workshop will be incorporated into a new report, “Planting the Future: opportunities and challenges for sustainable crop development” which is being prepared by EASAC for European policymakers.  It will be completed in mid-2013. This project was introduced during the workshop by Prof. Volker ter Meulen, Chairman of EASAC-NASAC Working Group Planting the Future.

Moreover, a South African publication on the regulation of genetic modification (GM) in agriculture was launched during the workshop. The GMO Policy Makers Booklet produced by the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) aims to emphasise the importance of credible scientific evidence and expertise in GM policy making and regulation and the possible role of science academies.
Key conclusions of the ASSAf report include:
  • The importance of appropriate, efficient and science-based regulatory systems for the utilisation of agricultural biotechnology;
  •  Policymakers should engage with the African academies when making decisions on the regulation of agricultural biotechnology;
  • Public participation and transparency are crucial for instilling confidence among stakeholders;
  • Policies and laws can only be successful and effective when there is real political will and conviction.

This publication was compiled by Prof. John Mugabe, funded by the Global Network of Science Academies (IAP) and produced in collaboration with the Mauritius Academy of Science and Technology (MAST).  ASSAf was Inaugurated in 1996 with former President Nelson Mandela as the patron of the launch and became a National Academy of Science through ASSAf Act 67 of 2001.

This workshop was held as part of the larger ATPS conference, “Emerging paradigms, technologies and innovations for sustainable development: global imperatives and African realities”.  Its blog can be found here and ATPS can be contacted via Facebook and Twitter.