ACGT sets the Scene for sub-Saharan Africa at FAO Conference

The ACGT was recently represented at the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) International technical conference on Agricultural Biotechnologies in Developing Countries (ABDC-10).

Held in Guadalajara, Mexico from 1-4 March 2010, the Conference was titled “Options and opportunities in crops, forestry, livestock, fisheries and agro-industry to face the challenges of food insecurity and climate change”. The ABDC-10 programme included 10 plenary sessions and 27 parallel sessions – of either a sector-specific, regional or cross-sectoral nature.

ACGT Director, Dr Jane Morris, was invited by the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) to give a ‘scene-setter’ presentation during the regional parallel session for sub-Saharan Africa. Her presentation, titled “Challenges for biotechnology adoption in sub-Saharan Africa in an era of climate change”, focused on identifying biotechnology priority areas for the region in the context of these challenges.

According to Dr Morris, the anticipated effects of climate change in sub-Saharan Africa will have a significant impact on not only the abiotic, but also the biotic stresses endured by crops, their nutritional characteristics and agronomic traits. This in turn poses a threat to the region’s food security and the health of its people.

In this context, Dr Morris maintains that the challenge of using biotechnology to increase food production and improve nutrition, health and the environment in Africa must be responded to through both the improvement of crops and the development of new crops. This includes such solutions as shorter growing seasons and improved resilience on the one hand, and breeding initiatives for orphan African crops on the other.

While it is widely accepted that biotechnological innovations can be of significant assistance in addressing the uncertainties of climate change, various challenges exist for biotechnology adoption in sub-Saharan Africa. Among these, Dr Morris lists adoption of specific biotechnology techniques; R&D funding and access to finance; capacity development and retention; political will; and market access. Public Private Partnerships (PPP), collaboration and networking are key to addressing some of these unique challenges. In addition, the worldwide shift to products with a global rather than local market potential requires that the development of biotechnology in Africa should take place in the context of a global society.

“The continent’s major social, environmental, and economic challenges will require radical – rather than incremental – innovation. The time to build new ways of innovating that suit Africa better is now”, Dr Morris said.