Africa Launches Coalition For Communication On Gene Editing

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ABBC 2021
The country coordinator, Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology, Nigeria chapter, Dr. Rose Gidado (fifth from left) flanked by other participants during the Africa Biennial Biosciences Communication Symposium in Abuja.

A consortium of African countries has launched a coalition for communication of innovative technologies such as gene editing for promoting productivity on the continent.

The coalition, one of the outcomes of the just concluded Africa Biennial Biosciences Communication Symposium (ABBC) 2021, themed – ‘Accelerating Africa’s biotech tipping point: taking stock and celebrating the gains’, had six African countries – Nigeria, Malawi, Uganda, Ghana, Kenya and Ethiopia – in attendance.

The virtual symposium concurrently running in the participating countries was jointly co-hosted by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech (ISAAA), African Union Development Agency (AUDA-NEPAD), African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA), the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology(OFAB), Program for Biosafety Systems and other partners and aims to form coalitions between the academia, scientists and communicators to simplify messaging and have a centralised message for communicating gains of gene editing.

In his goodwill message, the vice-chancellor of the University of Embu, Prof. Daniel Mugendi, pointed out that one of the objectives of a coalition is to optimise the use of traditional and digital media to sensitise the people on the application of new breeding innovations such as genome editing can benefit the people.

He further said the coalition presents a platform for African researchers to be effective communicators about their research to a non-technical audience, especially policymakers, farmers and journalists.

“Genome editing is a welcome addition to the breeder’s box, including the speed, precision and time of delivering improved varieties to farmers. Adoption of genome editing in Africa, however, will rely heavily on implementation of policies that foster an enabling environment for research and development. Therefore, universities and research organisations must be willing to go beyond publishing about genome editing research and engage with the relevant stakeholders on the adoption pipeline, key among them being policymakers and end-users.

“This communication must, therefore, go hand-in-hand with research and development and scientists must break down their research findings into simpler languages for the many audiences,” he said.

Similarly, the vice-president for research and technology transfer, Addis Ababa University, Dr. M. Smish underscored the importance of biotechnology and gene editing in improving the agricultural productivity of Africa.

Smish pointed out the importance of a coalition because it is key in promoting the technology in Africa, stressing the importance of synergy and collaborations in the success of the sensitization in Africa.

Earlier, the ISAAA AfriCentre director, Dr. Margaret Karembu, pointed out that Africa has recorded good progress in adopting bio-tech crops for 2021, adding the symposium would also consolidate on the lessons needed to inspire and propel her towards greater heights of agricultural development and attainment of food security.

Karembu, the ABBC co-convener, said the symposium is an Africa-based platform which could also address pressing communication problems needed to address biotechnology and biosafety.

Speaking to journalists in Abuja, the NABDA director-general, Prof. Abdullahi Mustapha, described the coalition as a “great strategy for promoting biotechnology”, especially the issue of genome editing in Africa.

“Biotechnology is an emerging technology which is ready to solve almost all the problems we are having. So, by bringing up something new you need to bring people together for enlightenment, re-education and analysis of whatever is going on. So, bringing African countries together [will help them] share experience to understand the way forward amongst themselves.

“From the presentation, everybody is trying to share their experiences and it proffers solution to problems already experienced by another African country by bringing the media of African countries to share their own experience, ideas on how to promote, motivate and effect this technology into their countries for better understanding,” he said.

Highlighting the key lessons from the conference, he said it would gear up the nation to maintain the successes recorded in bio-technology adoption.

He further pointed out that the conference would gear the agency up and, “with the release of our bio-tech crops, it has encouraged us. We need to put more efforts into realising the dream of the Nigerian government, which is the promotion of agriculture as a worthy diversion from the oil. This is very great and we’re happy to see that we’re leading in that aspect.

Earlier, the OFAB, country coordinator, Nigeria chapter, Dr. Rose Gidado, said the conference has been very educative, giving participating countries the opportunity to compare notes and learn from each other’s experiences.

“The presentations have been very educative, inspiring and informative. We compared notes with one another, shared experiences and provided updates on what everyone has been doing. It is very enriching and all I can say is that it has been a good learning experience. Coming together is a strength for us. If we do not work together as one and amplify our voices – speak with one voice – we will not get there,” she said.

She further pointed out that the move to harmonise the biotechnology regulatory framework by the African Union will go a long way in moving Africa forward in the adoption and application of the technology.

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