Dr. Diran Makinde, is the director of the AU/NEPAD-African Biosafety Network of Expertise (ABNE) based in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. The centre is in the forefront of building functional bio safety regulatory systems that will make it possible for government to adopt simple agricultural biotechnology for improved agricultural production.
At a recent Agriculture for Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) programme in Arusha, Tanzania, where we had almost all the stakeholders, government, development partners, scientists , regulators among others in agriculture deliberating, it was difficult pinning Dr. Diran Makinde for an interview.
After getting him to talk, he touched on the role of science in Africa food security and how genetically modified food can be used to increase food production among others. Here is an excerpt.
On the side event organised by his agency
AGRA and NEPAD agencies are in partnership and apart from that this a good venue that we have almost all the stakeholders, government, development partners, scientists , regulators among others are here.
So, we organised this side event to bring regulators and scientists together, because African scientists are working on African indigenous crops to develop that aspects that you think are necessary, like nutrient enrich cassava which we call bio cassava plus; nutrient enriched cowpea. There are so many commodities, so regulators at times need to interact to know what their needs are, how do they work together for the common goods.
On the role of science in Africa food security
You know the percentage of small scale farmers are actually very large, it is between 70 and 80 %. We know that these are the groups of farmers that are not exposed to any form of technology; they have been using the same form of practice for many years.
And it is high time we developed the attitude of actually adopting technology to improve the quality of life of our farmers, so this is one of the reasons we need to drive it home to our government especially and other stakeholders that we need to harness science and technology in Africa development.
On Genetic modified food
We are looking at agricultural biotechnology which includes, but is not GM alone. So, it is part of it, we are looking at it as a tool that can be used to increase productivity.
On safety of GM
Let me tell you, if our role in NEPAD is to build capacity and that is what we are in to, so, if we are able to build capacity in the science, technology and innovation areas, of course it will be good for all our people. It is a broad field. Whatever we are talking about now is not about GM or agricultural technology, it is more than that.
On pro-vitamin cassava being taken beyond research level in Nigeria
This is a test and that is why we called it confirmed field trials, we want to see weather what we have been told is actually true and we can get all those things in this new variety they are developing. So, it takes time to test them and make sure there are no harmful effects either on animals or humans or the environment. What we are talking about will take years to accomplish, but we want to be sure we take care of all the possible risks.
On the slow adoption of biotech in agric development in Africa
Well some countries are taking precautionary approach and which is part of what the kadaina protocol on bio safety dictates. They have the right to the fear of the unknown , so they say they want to thread it softly . The moment we have two or three other countries in Africa adopting the technology , commercializing the commodities then you will a different attitude .
It was during the advent of cell phone, it was slowly adopted and now almost everyone has one. Message for smallholder farmers and African leaders on agriculture
What I want and just hope that our farmers will be empowered to actually move from small scale holding so that real commercial farming can evolve in Africa.