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Biotechnology still polarizing Africa
31 October 2008
Venter Mwongera
Africa Science News Service (ASNS)

Acknowledgements: FANRPAN acknowledges Africa Science News Service (ASNS) as the source of this article: http://africasciencenews.org/


Written by Venter Mwongera Agricultural biotechnology and its intersection with small holder farmers in Africa has become emotionally charged and politically polarizing linking to policy questions of globalization, trade, debt relief, and environmental protection as well as the whole structure of free market capitalism.

Efforts by scientists to introduce biotechnology as one of the possible solutions to problems facing farmers in areas where they are most needed to fight hunger and poverty have been met with sceptism at best.

Biotechnology has been contributing to increased agricultural productivity in many developed and developing countries for the last 12 years and numerous studies and evidence based fact finding missions have shown that biotechnology-derived products have been proven economically viable, environmentally sustainable and are safe to their conventional counterparts.

According to former executive director, Africa Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), Dr. Mpoko Bokanga, most African countries are yet to adopt biotechnology derived products even in the face of rapidly growing population, declining agricultural productivity and numerous hardships expected from global warming.

In a recently concluded workshop deliberating on the way forward to biotech crops, Dr. Bokango further said that scientists, researchers, scholars are faced by a number of set backs in their work since there are a number of contradicting information that confronts policy and decision makers as scientists facts are often mixed with social, ethical and political considerations.

He advised that that biotechnology will establish a lasting credibility when successful products are in farmers' fields especially in Sub-Saharan Africa.

"Developments in science and technology generate the knowledge applied towards the realization of various aspects of economic and social welfare including wealth creation and poverty eradication. Kenya is among 129 countries that signed the Millennium Declaration in September 2000, and therefore, it is obliged to honour the requirements," the Secretary to National Council for Science and Technology Ministry of Higher Education, Science and Technology, Prof. Shaukat A. Abdulrazak advised.

He however added that sustainable growth, social cohesion and international competitiveness are some of Kenya's most important goals that are to be achieved by 2015; are inter-related and should be seen as a whole.

Prof. Shaukat further shed more light on biotech saying that the developing countries are still struggling with the idea of whether to adopt biotech or not whilst other developed countries embraced biotechnology many years back in both human food and animal feeds hence they are self sustaining after reaping vast benefits from the technology.

Bt cotton, rice, wheat, soybean, potatoes, for instance; could be a good source of employment since cotton can be grown in large scale farming cutting down on importations of second hand clothes, reviving our textile industries, making of high quality but cheap clothes in our country hence improving living standards by fighting malnourishment and child mortality rate in Kenya and other developing countries.

In an exclusive interview with Africa Science News Service, Prof. Shaukat said that NCST strategic plan views the use of science and technology as a tool for addressing Kenyans challenges currently and in the 21st century in meeting crucial goals.

The Ministry of Higher Education, Science and Technology made a statement that integration of science, Technology and innovation in the national production processes is central for the success of the Government's policy priorities and development programmes.

Chief among these core goals are economic recovery, poverty reduction, employment creation and achievement of vision 2030.

The Secretary to National Council for Science and Technology Ministry of Higher Education, Science and Technology further warned that it is in the best interest of the developing countries especially Kenya; in light to fighting poverty that biotechnology bill be passed since the technology has no health complications, its environment friendly, its productivity is high and doesn't harm other conventional crops.

Moreover, the above challenges can be addressed through public and private partnerships, linkages and collaborations with stakeholders, providing grants to researchers, scientists and innovators, conducting special investigations in priority areas.

Discussions made during the Convention on Biotechnological Diversity (CBD) and Cartagena Protocal on Biosafety, Kenya was among the 147 countries that were involved and should therefore ratify the protocol if National Biosafety Framework is to be domesticated.

"Bioprospecting of genetic resources in the country is not legally controlled since the science and Technology Act Cap 250 has not been revised," Prof. Shaukat notified.

According to the Director, National Agricultural Research Labs, Prof.. P. T. Gicheru, farmers do not have any reason as to why they should get poor yields from their shambas since Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) has a number of projects that can give farmers information on how to make right choice of seed- type for a certain type of soil in all parts of the country.

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