Agri-biotech experts call on Kenya to lift ban on GMO imports

Group photo: Agri-Biotechnology and Biosafety Communications Conference 2015

Delegates from 30 countries from around the world, attending an international Agri-biotechnology and Biosafety Communication (ABBC 2015) conference in Nairobi have called on the Government of Kenya to lift a 2-year ban on GMO imports.

Addressing the delegates who comprised farmers, scientists, policymakers, private sector, the media and science communicators, the Principal Secretary in Kenya’s Ministry of Industrialization and Enterprise Development, Dr Wilson Songa, emphasized the role of agricultural biotechnology in propelling the country towards prosperity.

“To harness this potential, the GMO import ban must be lifted,” he said. In addition, he said that Kenya has adequate capacity to develop and ensure safety of GMO products.

Members of Parliament present called upon the government to release the report by the Ministry of Health task force that was set up to look into the safety of GM foods, following the ban on GMO imports.

The ABBC conference brought together organizations and networks involved in agri-biotechnology and biosafety communication around the world to take stock of the progress and dynamics of agri-biotechnology communication over the past two decades. It was organized by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) AfriCenter, the African Agricultural Technology Foundation, the National Commission for Science Technology and Innovation among other partners.

One of the key lessons was that agri-biotechnology and biosafety communications must be simplified and messages delivered in appropriate languages for different stakeholders to make impact.

The delegates came up with the following Nairobi Declaration 2015:

We, the participants of the International Conference on Agri-Biotechnology and Biosafety Communication, held on 13-14 April 2015 in Nairobi, representing the academic and research community, civil society, law makers and policy advisors, the media, farmers and other stakeholders drawn from 30 countries across the world, collectively issue the following statement resulting from this conference:

Whereas

  1. The world faces unique and particular food security challenges in future, as the human population increases towards a likely 9.6 billion by 2050 and climate change raises additional problems for agriculture in terms of water and temperature stress, increased disasters and extreme weather;
  2. Some progress has been made in meeting the Millennium Development Goals on extreme poverty, malnutrition, infant mortality and food security. Much work remains to be done to ensure that citizens of all countries enjoy the full opportunity of healthy and sustainable access to food;
  3. Biotechnology and genetic engineering, while not being the only solutions to these challenges, offer great potential in addressing many specific concerns in food production, including micro-nutrient deficiencies, productivity and yield gaps, pest and disease problems;
  4. There exists an international scientific consensus that the ‘genetic modification’ process itself does not raise any risks over conventional breeding approaches;
  5. The debate around genetically modified products continues and is often characterized by emotive and misleading information about purported dangers that are not supported by any scientific evidence;
  6. Highly restrictive policy and regulatory environments exist in parts of the world, greatly hampering the capacity of farmers to access innovations that will improve farm productivity, household incomes and food security;

We hereby declare our commitment and determination

  1. To work collectively to improve the communications environment, including the use of the latest as well as traditional communication strategies to ensure effectiveness.
  2. To work inclusively, with all stakeholders, including those opposed to this technology, in an effort to build consensus and common understanding.
  3. To promote choice, so that farmers, consumers and other end-users can make informed decisions that reflect their best interests.
  4. To address the concerns of people at all levels, to ensure the widest participation possible.
  5. To demonstrate how agricultural production challenges can be tackled using biotechnology, and how it can directly contribute to food and nutrition security, poverty alleviation, job creation and sustainable economic development.
  6. To support credible scientists who are most trusted by the public and governments to be effective communicators and to have a closer relationship with the media and policymakers to ensure that scientifically-informed messages reach target audiences.

In particular, we gratefully acknowledge the active participation of Members of the Kenya National Assembly and many senior government representatives who participated in this conference and welcome their invaluable inputs to ensure the current ban on importation and consumption of GM foods in Kenya is lifted.

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New atlas maps data on Africa’s smallholder agriculture research and development

The work of agricultural researchers and development workers in Africa has the potential to significantly improve the lives of the poor. But that potential can only be realized with easy access to high-quality data and information.

The Atlas of African Agriculture Research & Development highlights the ubiquitous role of smallholder agriculture in Africa; the many factors shaping the location, nature, and performance of agricultural enterprises; and the strong interdependencies among farming, natural-resource stocks and flows, and the well-being of the poor.

Organized around seven themes, the atlas covers more than 30 topics, each providing mapped geospatial data and supporting text that answers four fundamental questions:

  • What is this map telling us?
  • Why is this important?
  • What about the underlying data?
  • Where can I learn more?

The atlas is part of a wide-ranging eAtlas initiative that will showcase, through print and online resources, a variety of spatial data and tools generated and maintained by a community of research scientists, development analysts, and practitioners working in and for Africa.

The initiative will serve as a guide, with references and links to online resources to introduce readers to a wealth of data that can inform efforts to improve the livelihoods of Africa’s rural poor.

African Development Bank and IFPRI publish report on the status of agri-biotechnology in Africa

Agricultural biotechnology has been used to address constraints in agriculture and has the potential to make a major contribution to the overall goal of sustainable intensification.

The adoption of agricultural biotechnology, and specifically genetically modified (GM) crops, by many African countries has been quite limited to date, however.

To further inform the debate over agricultural biotechnology, a report by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and the African Development Bank collects current information on the status of biotechnology in Africa—with an emphasis on GM crops—and assesses the opportunities offered by and constraints on adoption.

The authors provide information about the region’s limited financial, technical, regulatory, and legal capacities while additionally focusing on the role of trade concerns and conflicting information as limiting factors that affect adoption.

The authors also identify several initiatives that could help overcome these obstacles, such as increasing public investments in agricultural biotechnology research and development; improving regulatory frameworks and regulatory capacity; and developing an effective and broad-based communications strategy.

These and other recommendations should be useful to policymakers, development specialists, and others who are concerned about the potential role that biotechnology could play in Africa as an additional tool for sustainable agriculture development.

Access the report, GM agricultural technologies for Africa: A state of affairs

FARA to host continental meeting on agricultural science and innovation for food security in Africa

Beans at Sawla market in Ghana's Northern Region. Photo by Neil Palmer (CIAT).
Beans at Sawla market in Ghana’s Northern Region. Photo by Neil Palmer (CIAT).

On 15-20 July 2013, the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) hosts the sixth Africa Agriculture Science Week (AASW) in Accra, Ghana. The theme of the event is “Africa feeding Africa through agricultural science and innovation“.

Earlier this month, a group of volunteer social media enthusiasts (including Yours Truly!) from all over the world, who are passionate about using social media to communicate agricultural science for development, came together to form a virtual social reporting team to help spread the word about the key sub-themes of the 6th AASW.

The FARA-AASW social media team will provide both onsite and offsite social media coverage of the goings-on at the 6th AASW conference. So far, we have over 100 members and still more are volunteering to assist!

The conference organizers have created a blog that will be an informal information channel from the AASW social reporters.

Already, a number of blog posts have been posted on agricultural research for development in Africa and some of the ways in which the youth can benefit from actively participating in the agriculture sector. And you can expect lots more news once the event kicks off mid-next month!

But in the meantime, do take a minute or two and check out the FARA-AASW blog.

ICT for development: where are the African researchers?

If a tree falls in the middle of the forest and nobody hears it fall, does it make a sound?

An article in SciDevNet titled Research on ICT for development ‘lacks African’ voice’ prompted me to wonder why it is that the ‘voices’ of African researchers are not being heard in regard to the potential of ICT applications for development, especially since Africa bears a great burden of poverty, disease and environmental degradation, all of which are targets for strategic reduction via the Millennium Development Goals.

Is it that the research is being done but not being published widely in international peer-reviewed outlets? Or is it that the research is not being done in the first place? How do we get the findings of research carried out in public universities and published in MSc and PhD theses off the dusty library shelves and into the hands of policymakers?

It’s not enough for the African researchers to “speak”… they must also ensure that their voices are being heard in the right forums and by the right audiences. How else will their work have a positive impact on development?