By Joyce Ojanji
In line with the food security crisis being faced by many African countries, experts have called for establishment of actionable interventions, measures, and policies in biotechnology to address and improve the state of food nutrition and security in the continent.
According to a recent Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report, approximately 418 million people (21% of the African population) were undernourished in 2020. Of these, 61.4 million are stunted children under five years of age, about 12.1 million are wasted and 10.6 million are overweight. The capacity of global resources and technologies to satisfy the demands of this growing population for food and other agricultural commodities is not assured.
Speaking during the 7th Calestous Juma Executive Dialogue (CJED) forum on Nutrition and Food Security that took place in Nairobi, Kenya, Dr. Canasius Kanangire, Executive Director of the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) said agricultural biotechnology would increase crop yields through development of drought-tolerant and pest and disease-resistant crops that perform better and yield more.
He said biotech crops had the twin dividend of enhancing food security and mitigating impacts of climate change in Africa. However, he pointed out that biotechnology alone was not a panacea for Africa’s agricultural productivity challenges.
“Frequent drought as a result of climate change, the emergence of new pests and diseases like the Fall Armyworm, use of harmful
pesticides, and low productivity due to degraded soil nutrients, are some of the persistent challenges facing agriculture sector in Africa,” he said.
According to experts, fruitful collaborations with African governments and institutions in the last 10 years had yielded seed varieties that were more productive, resistant to pests, disease and drought.
“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. Kanangire.
In addition, Prof. Karim Maredia, member of African Union High level Panel on Emerging Technologies (APET) noted that proper regulation needs to be put in place for biotechnology and other emerging technologies to be harnessed in food productivity in the continent.
Prof. Maredia noted that high food productivity can be enhanced through use of new science and technology which include genome editing, artificial intelligence, drone technology, block chains, machine learning and farm equipment that are appropriate for small holder farmers.
He emphasized that through emerging technology, youth resources can also be harnessed in agriculture because youths are very much fascinated with digital and modern information technologies and are looking at agriculture differently from the way their parents looked at it. They are looking at agriculture as business.
“If agriculture can be transformed into modernized farming, youths will find it more attractive because they are born and brought up in a very different environment than their parents’ and grandparents,’’ Prof. Maredia added.
He called for governments to support and regulate science, technology and innovation (STI) policy reforms to boost agricultural productivity from producing food security crops to high value crops for export.