The Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology has (OFAB) urged Africa leaders and other relevant institutions to harness the benefits of biotechnologies to promote food security challenges on the continent.
It noted that the continent would not be able to overcome the consequences of food security and forever remain dependent on food aid from countries that had adopted innovative agricultural technologies to improve food production.
Mr. Daniel Otunge, Coordinator of OFAB, a programme of the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), made the statement the during a three-day media training on biotechnology organized by the Ghana Chapter of the OFAB for scientists and some selected journalists from the nine regions of Ghana.
He encouraged the media to make the debate to facilitate areas that may need policy regulations; the strategies to be adopted; which capacities are lacking and needed to be built and why biotechnology investments should be made and where.
“The media should therefore act as agents of change by working closely with scientists and policy makers to define an African agenda for biotechnology,” he said and pointed out that if that was not done, the continent would forever be dependent on food aid from countries that had adopted innovative agricultural technologies to improve food production.
Mr. Otunge tasked the Ghanaian media to frame the biotechnology debate in a manner that would improve public negative perceptions toward the technology, citing genetically modified crops as an example.
The OFAB Coordinator reminded the media of the huge responsibility they have in terms of setting the right development agenda for policy makers and urged them not to worry about intellectual property rights with regards to biotechnology crops.
Mr. Otunge announced that the AATF was set up specifically to deal with issues concerning intellectual property rights and that the Foundation currently had successfully brokered several technologies including Striga control in maize; insect-resistant cowpea; improvement of banana for resistance against banana bacterial wilt; biological control of aflatoxin; drought-tolerance in maize and improved rice.
“The media has a social responsibility to demand of governments, on behalf of their audiences, better science, technology and innovation policies and laws, noting that “no country in the world has ever developed without investing heavily on its science and technological industry”.
He underlined the agricultural challenges facing Africa, observing that although 60-70 per cent of the African population depended on agriculture for their livelihoods, only four per cent of cropped land had access to irrigation and that 25 to 33 per cent of cropped land was subjected to severe to moderate drought, making food production on them extremely difficult.
Other factors affecting agriculture in Africa included poor policies, low investments in agriculture, virulent attach on crops by pests, diseases and low application of fertilizers due to extreme poverty and challenged the media to help in the promotion of better agricultural policies and adoption of new technologies to help mitigate the challenges.
Mr. Otunge said the media was central to the acceptance of biotechnology in Africa because they were the preferred sources of information on biotechnology to policy makers, legislators, farmers and consumers, among others for people to make decisions regarding benefits and potential perceived risks.
He called on the media to use their mandate responsibly and provide credible platform for biotechnology dialogue to help facilitate and improve timely decision making on the technology “now that the country is poised to begin confined field trials on cowpea, rice and sweet potato.
Mr. Otunge called on the media to work closely with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and OFAB, whose mission was to enhance knowledge-sharing and awareness on agricultural biotechnology that would raise understanding and appreciation of technology.
It is also contribute to building an enabling environment for informed and timely decision-making to help create better biotechnology regulatory frameworks to facilitate the adoption of the technology.