New gene revolution should not bypass Africa – Akinwumi

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By Jimoh Babatunde with agency reports

Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development,  Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, has disclosed that biotechnology offers great potential to help feed Africa, but regretted that seeds from  from gene revolution are commercial, not public goods.

In a message sent to Bioscience  for Farming in Africa (B4FA) Media Fellows organised for Nigerian journalists  in Abuja recently  to gain insight into plant genetics and its relevance for Nigerian farmers, the Minister said there are challenges to overcome for gene revolution in Africa.

He said Bt-cotton is growing in West Africa and South Africa as well as successful development and testing of GM maize in Kenya and South Africa, and GM bananas in Uganda, to address pest and disease complexes  have shown that there are great potentials for biotechnology in Africa.

While noting that conventional breeding still holds the best option , Adewumi said public research institutions are dominant, not private research institutions

“Unlike in green revolution in Asia, seeds from gene revolution are commercial, not public goods, farmers need to be able to reuse seeds. Limited public-private partnerships for sharing proprietary technologies for crops of importance for the (Africa Agricultural Technology Foundation).

Rufus Ebegba, in his presentation on Status of Biosafety  in Nigeria, said modern technology is an alternative tool to address global  challenges  as modern biotechnology is a fusion of  cells that overcome natural physiological reproductive barriers  used in traditional breeding and selections.

While noting that the issue of biosafety is gaining ground in Africa, he said the presence of biosafety law in Nigeria will serve as a key that will open the door  for the country’s safe modern biotechnology activities for national development. “Modern biotechnology under a regulated system  will enhance economy growth and food security.

B4FA used the media fellows opportunity to hold the Nigerian launch of its new book,   Insights: Africa’s future…. Can bioscience contribute?

Speaking at the launch, Dr. Baba Abubakar,  Executive Secretary, Agricultural Research Council of Nigeria (ARCN), who  represented  the  Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development,  Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, said  “There has been a lot of negative propaganda. … There is a lot we can gain through the use of biotechnology.”

On the biosafety bill, which awaits the assent of President Goodluck Jonathan, “we have been trying to see that the government signs the bill for biosafety … we want to make sure that what you consume is safe.”  Regarding the collection of essays, he commented that you must know your subject well to write about it in clear, simple terms.

One time Minister of  Technology, Prof. Turner Isoun, speaking on the book said  “We want to make technology available to small farmers. … We need technology to improve food security.   There is nothing controversial about it. We must make enlightened and strategic choices.”   Prof. Isoun added, “The future for biotechnology in Africa is bright.”

Dr. Kevin Urama, Executive Director of the African Technology and Policy Studies Network, based in Nairobi, noted, “We as Nigeria, Africa, must try to be at the table when technologies are being developed so we are not latecomers.” He added, “It has 60% of arable land but is hungry – that continent is Africa. We have the richest soils but are not harnessing them.”

Sir Brian Heap, B4FA’s Project Leader, stated that in the book of essays “I hope you’ll find accounts from different perspectives that will help to address it in a balanced way and help everyone from farmers up to the President, a book you can use to help promote dialogue.”   He added that Dr. Templeton, whose foundation supports B4FA, especially hopes to help small farmers: “How can we raise the standard of living of smallholder farmers and help them develop as entrepreneurs?”

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