At the turn of this century, biotechnology emerged as a powerful tool that has contributed to increased agricultural productivity in many countries. Since 1996, biotechnology-derived crops have been commercially planted and their adoption has been increasing steadily; they are now planted by over 8.5 million farmers in 21 countries and cover over 90 million hectares.(ISAAA 2006). Eleven countries growing these crops are from the developing world, for example Brazil. Realising the importance of this cutting-edge technology, the Nigerian Government in 2001 established our agency, the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA), after putting in place a National Biotechnology Policy.
The intense debate over agricultural biotechnology and its applications focuses mainly on hypothetical risks and questions related to value, safety and impact (agronomic, economic and environmental). However, the last ten years have seen many of these questions put to rest. Numerous studies and evidence-based fact finding missions have shown that biotechnology-derived products have been proven to be economically viable, environmentally sustainable and as safe as their conventional counterparts. Properly integrated into traditional farming systems, biotechnology applications could make a difference in improving food security in Africa and other developing countries at large.
Most African countries are reluctant to adopt biotechnology-derived products as the policy makers are confronted with contradictory sources of information and threats from some trade partners. Scientific facts are often mixed with social, ethical and political considerations. In the face of a rapidly growing population, declining agricultural productivity and reduced resources available for agricultural research, policy makers are pressed to make the right decisions and are looking for guidance. A case in point is the establishment of the High-Level African Panel on Modern Biotechnology set up by the African Union to advise the African Heads of State on a common stand on biotechnology. At the country level, there is need for national scientists and experts to provide policy makers and the general public with evidence-based information needed to harness such technologies.
As an African organization set up to access and deliver proprietary technologies, including biotechnology, to increase the productivity of African smallholder farmers, the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) established a platform to facilitate the flow of information from the scientific community to policy makers and the general public. The platform, known as the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology in Africa (OFAB), brings together stakeholders in biotechnology and enables interactions between scientists, journalists, the civil society, industrialists, lawmakers and policy makers. The Open Forum takes the form of a monthly lunch meeting that provides an opportunity for key stakeholders to know one another, share knowledge and experiences, make new contacts and explore new avenues of bringing the benefits of biotechnology to the African agricultural sector.
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