The ability of African countries to feed a growing population and boost smallholder farmers’ income lies in greater adoption of biotechnology, an expert said Monday.

Denis Kyetere, executive director of African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), said that genetic engineering could unlock the full potential of small-scale farming in the continent amid challenges posed by climate change, pests, diseases and shrinking arable land.

“Investment in biotechnology research will produce a critical mass of expertise to enable the continent to exploit the benefits of technology in improving agricultural productivity among farmers,” Kyetere said in a statement released in Nairobi.

Believing that biotechnology tailor-made for African smallholder farmers will boost the continent’s efforts to alleviate hunger, malnutrition and rural poverty, Kyetere said that political goodwill combined with enactment of friendly policies and regulations is key to spur investments in agricultural biotechnology in Africa.

The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) , a not-for-profit organization, said in its 2020 report that income for farmers who had adopted biotech crops had increased in both wealthy and developing nations.

According to the ISAAA 2020 report, genetically engineered crops had resulted in economic gains estimated at 224.9 billion U.S. dollars for more than 16 million farmers in the last 23 years.

Kyetere said that the introduction of genetically engineered food crops that are both insect and drought resistant in several African countries has paid off amid improved food security and incomes for smallholder farmers.

He singled out the use of a microbe that is naturally found in the soil to produce a biological pesticide that has enabled horticulture farmers to combat voracious pests with minimal damage to human and ecological health. He added that a partnership between government, industry and academia is key to stimulate research geared toward development of drought, pest and disease resistant crops in Africa. Enditem

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