By Sharon Atieno

With at least 57 million people highly food insecure in East and Central Africa alone, food security remains a critical challenge in the African continent.

It is for this reason, that experts and stakeholders convened for a three-day high level meeting on emerging technologies in Nairobi, Kenya to explore the role of these technologies in improving food security on the continent.

The objectives of the meeting dubbed 7th Calestous Juma Executive Dialogue on Innovation and Emerging Technologies (CJED) include strengthening knowledge and capacity of African private and public sector players on innovation and emerging technologies and improving the capacity of senior policy and decision-makers to provide technical advice to governments in assessing and harnessing emerging technologies in their respective institutions and organizations.

The other objective involves equipping participants to provide evidence-based policy choices for African leaders in making informed decisions in harnessing innovation in these technologies.

Some of the experts at the AU high level meeting on emerging health technologies

In his welcoming remarks, Richard Mavisi, Senior Principal Superintending Geologist, Kenyan Ministry of Energy, Geo-exploration Directorate noted that the dialogue is coming at an important point in the history of the African continent when the continent is facing insurmountable challenges pertaining to nutrition and food security.

According to Mavisi, though African countries are making progress to improve the situation through technological and infrastructural investments, the continent’s agricultural space requires enabling policy frameworks and technologically skilled human resources to strengthen the potential of achieving food security through smart agriculture.

Prof. Yaye Kene Gassama, Chair African Union High Level Panel on Emerging Technologies (APET) noted that Africa can only be fully autonomous if it can produce enough food to feed its population.

She observed that genome editing is a relevant tool that can be used to achieve this. However, genome editing cannot be considered as a stand alone technology but has to be embedded in other breeding technologies, Prof. Gassama said.

She noted that the benefit expected from genome editing will be realized if farmers gain access to improved seeds and services but this will require for policies to be put in place and dialogue and collaboration between stakeholders.

Prof . Yaye Gassama, Chair APET

Prof. Karim Maredia, Professor, College of Agricultural and Natural Resources, Michigan State University( APET member), USA observed that Africa is a resource rich continent and can feed its own people and export farm produce by making agriculture more productive, reducing on post-harvest losses, and putting the appropriate policies and institutional support structures in place as well as creating an enabling environment for all the stakeholders to work together.

“The solution to African food security cannot just rely on governments alone, all the stakeholders need to work together – governments, private sector, non-governmental organizations, universities, research institutions, farmers and consumer groups,” he said.

According to Prof. Emmanuel Bobobee, Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, Ghana, mechanized agriculture is the way forward in Africa.

“Manual agriculture is tedious and full of drudgery, we need to adapt agricultural mechanisation technologies to attract the youth and turn agriculture into a multi-trillion dollar industry,” Prof. Bobobee urged.

Prof. Emmanuel Bobobee

Dr. Canisius Kanangire, Executive Director, African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), Kenya observed that biotechnology is one of the change factors needed to address food security in Africa.
He noted that biotechnology has tremendous benefits including reducing vulnerability to diseases, improving tolerance and adding nutritional value to crops among others.

Despite this, Dr. Kanangire said uptake was still low and called for more African countries to embrace the technology by creating conducive environment for research and adoption of the products.

Additionally, Prof. Aggrey Ambali, Senior Advisor, African Union Development Agency (AUDA-NEPAD) called for involvement of youth at all levels of food systems, saying “ the youth can play a critical role in finding solutions to food security.”

The three-day high level meeting was organized by the AUDA-NEPAD under the theme nutrition and  food security.