By Sharon Atieno

Though smallholder farmers are the largest contributor to agriculture in Africa, they seldom make any profit due to challenges brought about by climate change, unstable prices for agricultural produce and deterioration of productive land for farming.

According to Dr. Denis Kyetere, African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF)’s Executive Director, biotechnology can increase crop yields through development of drought-tolerant and pest and disease-resistant crops that perform better and yield more harvests.

He shared these sentiments during the 4th Calestous Juma Executive Dialogue (CJED) event on Innovation and Emerging Technologies held on 28th – 29th April 2021 where he spoke on Making Emerging Technologies relevant for Smallholder farmers in Africa.

He observed that agricultural biotechnology is accelerating development and thus increasing farmer profit margins.

According to the the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA)  2020 report, incomes of farmers planting biotech crops globally have increased in both developed and developing countries with economic gains of US$224.9 billion benefitting more than 16 million farmers in the last 23 years.

Dr. Kyetere added that in addition to improving plant performance, the use of Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) genes to produce insect resistant crops has reduced the excessive use of insecticides which is saving farmers costs on inputs and contributing to human health and the environment.

About seven countries are planting biotech crops in Africa while research is being conducted on six crops including banana, cassava, rice, sorghum, potato and plantain, according to the ISAAA 2020 report.

He urged African leaders to allocate more funding for research and development for emerging technologies such as agricultural biotechnology, emphasizing that this would increase capacity in biotechnology research in Africa for the benefit of the continent.

“Investment in biotechnology research will produce a critical mass of expertise to enable the continent to exploit the benefits of the technology in improving agricultural productivity among farmers,” said Dr. Kyetere.

Dr. Kyetere further called on governments and players in the agricultural sector to embrace public-private-partnership collaborative model to attract private sector to support biotechnology research and contribute to increasing capacity in the field.

“AATF spearheaded efforts to reduce ineffective regulatory systems which has improved biotech research in Africa. More efforts to increase friendly regulatory environment to stimulate biotech research is still required,” he stated.

The CJED, organized by the AUDA-NEPAD, brought together experts across the continent to deliberate on strategic innovation and emerging technologies for smart agriculture to strengthen Africa’s food security.