As Africa continues to embrace emerging technologies, the African Union (AU) has identified Nigeria’s role as very crucial in the creation and sustenance of biotech as the blueprint for Africa’s development.
Speaking during the three-day genome editing (GE) intervention meeting organised by the African Union Development Agency New Partnership for Africa’s Development (AUDA-NEPAD) Centre of Excellence in Science, Technology and Innovation (CoE STI) with support from the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) in Abuja, the acting director, knowledge, management and programme, AUDA-NEPAD, Ms. Florence Nazare, underscored the need for Africa to put science in the heart of what it does.
Nazare pointed out that Nigeria has played a great role in pointing other African countries in the right direction, to adopt and deploy innovative technologies in tackling its agricultural challenges to enhance productivity.
She posited that the centres of excellence genome editing projectaim to gauge and further strengthen the capacity of key stakeholders in the selected countries to help Africa optimise its food production.
“This is a project that we are working on in several countries to promote genome editing technologies within member states because we see that Africa requires to optimise its agriculture production. It also needs to optimise the shelf life of products and produce more products for the future to ensure that food security is achieved.
“If we are looking at the objectives before us, we are keen on seeing a globalised Africa that is competitive and productive. In light of this, we are putting science at the heart of what we do and if we look at it we do want to highlight the importance of Nigeria in the creation and sustenance of biotech as a blueprint for Africa’s development. That is thinking of African solutions to Africa’s problems, whereby Africa sees itself as resourceful with the need to utilise its capabilities (scientific etc),” she said.
Giving the meeting objective, the supervisor, AUDA-NEPAD CoE STI, Dr. Olalekan Akinbo listed the key objectives of the meeting to include the creation of a platform for engagement with senior government officials for strengthening institutional linkages in GE (national system) to optimise agriculture, as well as the development of baseline to enhance research and development, as well as commercialisation capability.
Akinbo listed top priority countries for the project to include Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, eSwatini, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa and Uganda.
According to him, the criteria used in selecting Nigeria as one of the focal countries is because Nigeria has a guideline and law that allows the practice of modern biotechnology regulated by the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) that could check and balance the issue of emerging technologies, one of which is gene editing and, if that Act is not there, then Nigeria’s selection might not have been a priority.
Another factor which necessitated Nigeria’s selection, he said, was the availability of developed a guideline, which is an outshoot of the Act which underlined the process to interpret the law.
“The essence of this project is to capacitate scientists in Nigeria to do their science, take advantage of new innovations and move them beyond the lab. So, they just don’t have to do research. Many of us have publications but the farmers are not getting the benefit and the essence of innovation is in translating and transforming livelihoods. Any innovation that is not transforming livelihoods is just a moribund document.
“So, I think that is the essence; connecting science in innovation to policies, then to improving livelihood. This is the translation of Agenda 2063. The Africa we want is the self-sustaining, self-sufficient and food-secured one,” he added.
In his remarks, the director-general, National Agricultural Seeds Council (NASC), Dr. Philip Ojo identified gene editing as a very good tool that can be used to ensure that some of the challenges faced in the agricultural sector are taken care of.
He said although Nigeria is not actively engaged in gene editing currently, this knowledge fuels the continual support the agency gives its sister agency, NABDA, to use innovative technologies to tackle farmers’ challenges.
“We want to ensure that everything is done because we believe food insecurity will be eliminated through gene editing and farmers can have the best genetic crops. They can’t have that unless some of these challenges are removed.
“We will continue to collaborate to ensure that we have the best for farmers in Nigeria and beyond,” he reiterated.
Earlier, the deputy director, agricultural biotechnology department, NABDA, Dr. Oloruntoyin Ajenifujah-Solebo, averred that several giant strides have been achieved by individuals and organisations across the nation with this innovative technology that has the potential to revolutionalise the food and agricultural sector.
She, however, underscored the need for some kind of synergy in individual countries and collaboration amongst countries for this feat to be achieved.
“So, to forge forward [we have brought] all that are gathered here together for knowledge-sharing, learning from the past and present for a more definitive and successful present and future,” she stated.
In his goodwill message, the director, technology adaptation and acquisition department, Federal Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation, Dr. Micheal Anpe said: “This is the time Africa is gaining its footing in the applications of science and technology and if we continue like this and put in more effort, Africa will become a continent to reckon with.
“This meeting is very apt and welcome. We are talking about climate change. This genome editing could bring about a revolution in the agricultural sector. I pray the resolutions we will come up with at the end of this meeting will be implemented to the fullest and the development of Nigeria and Africa,” he said.
Similarly, the director, research, biotechnology and genetic engineering advanced laboratory, Sheda Science and Technology Complex (SHESTCO), Dr. Abolade Afolabi said the meeting was refreshing because, as a researcher, it would be nice to see and hear all the benefits that people have gained from the very safe technology.
Afolabi appreciated AUDA- NEPAD and the partnering agency, NABDA, for the engagement which would lead to the development of the nation.