Africa would ignore biotechnology at its own peril

ACHIEVING adequate food with nutritional requirements for all people is one of the prime challenges facing most developing countries, particularly in the sub-Saharan region.

In Africa, for example, governments have made it almost like an annual habit to ask for food aid claiming that crops had failed due to unfavourable weather conditions and inadequate rainfall.

This is the excuse that countries, including Kenya, where agriculture is the lifeline of over 80 percent of rural folks and also provides 70 percent employment, continue to give.

Research shows that farming constraints such as inappropriate technologies for small holder farmers, high cost of farm inputs, farm fragmentations, etc that Kenya continue to give as an excuse to justify itsr begging spree are a thing of the past.

According to Prof. Onesmus ole Moi Yoi of the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology Africa, such constraints have been eliminated in other parts of the world through use of science and technology.

Prof. ole Moi Yoi argues that food insecurity and malnutrition can be made a thing of the past if the Government can adopt a policy that would help rural-based farmers to boost their farm production.

He says, “Food security is achieved, if adequate food (quality, quantity, safety, sociocultural acceptability) is available and accessible for and satisfactorily utilised by all individuals at all times to live a healthy and happy life.”

Prof. ole Moi Yoi says following success of green revolution in the 1980s that helped to triple food production (availability) in Latin America and Asia, but which African countries largely ignored, the continent can now ill-afford to ignore biotechnology. He says it was a misnomer that Africa was bypassed by the green revolution adding that it would be unwise for the same to happen with the GM technology, which is not only promising to offer solutions to hunger and environment problems, but also contain malnutrition.

Prof. ole Moi Yoi regrets that Kenya and other countries still rely on rain fed, the use of irrigation, fertiliser, hybrid seeds which is too expensive for the poor nation to feed its population.

Low and often declining farm-level productivity is a major cause of persistently low income and hunger. Malnutrition is common in sub-Saharan Africa with about 40-50 percent of the region’s population rstill malnourished each year and the region is worse off nutritionally today than it was 30 years back Already the Kenya government has reiterated its support for the genetically modified crops. As far as Dr. Wilson Songa is concerned the technology is outstanding.

He says that the importance of the GM technology in crop production would not only grow faster but also meet the nutritious needs of most poor communities in Kenya. Dr. Songa agrees that, “The convectional farming methods alone may not provide solutions to all our problems given the increased demands for agricultural productivity”.Indeed, agricultural science and improved technologies have over the past 50 years made a huge impact on poverty in the developing world mainly in Asia and Latin America but Africa is yet to realise anywhere near the full potential that agricultural science has to offer. The harsh realities imposed by poverty and food insecurity throughout sub-Saharan Africa forces countries now to think twice this time round whether to adopt the use of biotechnology or risk being left behind as it happened when the Green Revolution came.

Some experts say that Africa stands to miss the benefit of biotechnology if it is keeps on listening to what other countries are saying about the use of technology. Dr. Romano Kiome, Permanent Secretary Ministry of Agriculture, refutes such allegations and assures that Kenya has the scientific capacity, human resources and the physical capacities to deliver GM technology to the highest quality standards required.

Dr. Kiome says that Kenya has already adopted the use of tissue culture, marker aided selector to produce bananas, some species of trees and is yet to start using genetically modified technology to produce cereals such as maize which is the region’s staple foodn.

He says maize is one of the most important sources of calories for the poor in Africa, second only to cassava. It is a significant part of the diet of millions of smallholder subsistence farmers, who grow it primarily in mixed cropping systems.

Small to medium scale farmers who cultivate 10 hectares or less grow 95 percent of the maize produced in Africa.

Diseases and insect pests, particularly several different species of stem borers, cause significant yields losses in all African eco-regions where crop is grown He agrees that losses vary from 15 to 40 percent but in some areas it is total failure. A combination of traditional plant breeding and novel gene technology is being used to produce maize varieties that are resistant to stem borers.

Perhaps if the losses caused by pests, diseases, weeds, cost of insecticide, soil erosion, exhaustion etc can be minimised with the use of biotechnology, African countries, Kenya in particular, would not be begging for food for its citizen every year.


Anonymous said...

I disown totally the statements ascribed to me, and/or purported to have been made by me, and posted at this site on April 25, 2006.I am not affilliated with an entity called A New Bridge to Sustainable Agricultural Development of Africa, nor am I aware of its existance.
Phelix Majiwa, PhD.

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