The International Symposium on Agricultural Transformation and Biotech Crops in Africa (ISATBCA) has underscored the importance of collaborative research in biotechnology, including genetically modified organisms (GMO) technology and genome editing in advancing scientific frontiers in the fight against food insecurity.
In a communique issued at the end of a symposium held at the West Africa Centre for Crop Improvement (WACCI) – University of Ghana in Accra, ISATBCA stressed that continuous discoveries in the biotechnology space are essential to unlock new possibilities in the fight against hunger.
The 10-point communique signed by Professor Eric Yirenkyi Danquah, founding Director of WACCI, and Joseph Opoku Gakpo, the country lead of Alliance for Science Ghana, observed that Africa’s food insecurity situation surpasses that of all other continents and requires new tools to help deal with it.
Prioritise creation of enabling environment
The communique therefore called on African governments to prioritise the creation of an enabling environment for deploying agricultural biotechnologies to address Africa’s food insecurity situation.
“Governments must allocate sufficient resources to academic institutions that train plant breeders and biotechnologists to build human capacity and provide them with the necessary resources so they can create made-in-Africa biotech crops for the benefit of the populace,” the communique said.
The communique, titled ‘Pathways to achieving food security in Africa’, also urged governments to establish seed systems that ensure the delivery of biotech seeds to farmers and translate research findings into practical solutions. Traditional plant breeding, agronomy, digitisation, and other approaches should also be recognised as complementary to improving food systems, it said.
It added that governments should increase investments in agricultural biotechnology projects as a commitment to addressing food insecurity. Currently, most biotech crop projects rely on donor funding and efforts should be made to reverse this dependence, the communique said.
Addressing regulatory loopholes
The communique further urged government regulatory agencies to address loopholes in regulatory frameworks for GMOs and genome-edited crops, streamlining and simplifying the processes while maintaining transparency and robustness. “Harmonisation of biosafety frameworks continent-wide is needed, with the African Union taking the lead in this effort,” it stated.
The symposium, now established as an annual gathering, also urged African governments to demonstrate political support for biotechnology by addressing challenges related to limited human resources and insufficient investments hindering its deployment and adoption.
The symposium brought together over 100 scientists from 20 countries across Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, Latin America and the USA. With 25 main speakers delivering in-person presentations, the event addressed the need for expanded farmer-access to crops produced using New Breeding Techniques (NBTs). Participants also discussed the deployment and impact of genetically modified organism (GMO) technology in Africa, as well as the untapped potential of genome editing in achieving food self-sufficiency in Africa.