By Chinyere Anyanwu
Dearth of scientific capacity in most African countries has been identified as the reason for low adoption of modern biotechnology in sub-Saharan Africa.
The statement was made by Dr. Issoufou Kollo, AATF Cowpea Project Manager, in a keynote address to legal practitioners and officers during a two-day workshop on biotechnology and biosafety recently held in Karu, Abuja.
“In many countries, even the capacities to conduct basic agricultural research has regressed,” said Dr. Kollo.
According to him, the regression has exposed the unpreparedness of African scientists to address unnecessary propaganda against their work in modern biotechnology. Many do not know how to handle the situation, he said, attributing this to widespread low understanding and misinformation on molecular biology and biotechnology even among scientists.
He urged African scientists to educate themselves on molecular biology and biotechnology and learn the latest development in the field. “Engage yourselves in the debate to defend your profession, learn how to communicate effectively to the public with less scientific jargon,” said Dr. Kollo. “We need to understand that scientists will never be left alone in their lab and research centre. They must explain to the public and the decision makers what they are doing. They are accountable to the society,” he added.
The plant pathologist faulted the Cartagena Protocol, saying it does not promote the adoption of biotechnology. “The protocol is based on fear and assumptions that genetically modified organisms (GMO) are dangerous products. It focuses on biodiversity conservation and trans-boundary movements without telling how GMOs can endanger the survival of species.”
Dr. Kollo said this confusion results in the development of biosafety legislation and regulations that are more of a hindrance to biotechnological research, development and use while contributing to spreading fear among the public. He said that Africa has a lot to gain from genetically modified crops in addressing issues of food insecurity. Referring to progress made in other countries such as the United States of America, Dr. Kollo said that GM crops are the fastest adopted technology since the release of hybrids and wondered why Africa, with the lowest food per capita production in the World and chronic hunger and malnutrition affecting more than 1/3 of the population, is dragging its feet on the technology.