The Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology, a project under the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), has been officially launched today in Rwanda.
Speaking at the ceremony today (October 27), the AATF director, Dr. Canisius Kanangire, said the launch makes Rwanda the eighth country in Africa to have an OFAB chapter, besides the others in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Ghana, Burkina Faso, and Nigeria.
Kanangire said the milestone indicates the possibilities ahead through collaboration, driven by unity of purpose and the mutual goal between AATF and the Rwandan government.
“As captured in its Strategic Plan for Agriculture Transformation 2018 to 2024 (PSTA4), the Government of Rwanda is committed to improving the lives of its small-holder farmers who, like many other farmers in Africa, have continued to face challenges such as low crop productivity attributable to pests and diseases’ prevalence, declining soil fertility and weather-related challenges. On its part, AATF has established itself as an African-led not-for-profit organisation that works in 23 countries, including Rwanda, towards empowering the small-holder farmer through access to technologies that can make a difference to their livelihoods,” he said.
Founded on the premise of tackling poverty and food insecurity through technological interventions, Kanangire said the AATF focuses on enhancing productivity and incomes for small-holder farmers and building an enabling environment for better performance and transformation of agriculture on the continent. He said its goals are achieved through public-private partnership models that empower farmers to transform their livelihoods through better tools and inputs that would, without the organisation’s intervention, take a much longer time to reach them and cost a lot more.
“In its nearly 20 years in operation, the organisation has facilitated access to technologies worth over US$400 million for use by farmers in Africa – from better seeds, whether conventional or biotechnological to digital tools and machinery. Over the years, we have seen improved yields of between 100 and 300 per cent. We have witnessed farmers making a difference in their lives through technology, including the construction of new houses for their families and managing to pay fees for their children. We have witnessed increased yields for our cassava farmers through the use of mechanisation from 7 to 11 tonnes per hectare to between 23 and 33 tonnes per hectare, fetching the farmers approximately US$2,000/ha in income while reducing drudgery, especially for women and youth,” he stated.
The AATF boss noted that, although Rwanda is active on the biotechnology front with tissue culture work, it is still not engaged in commercial production of any genetically modified crop. He conceded that the country has made important steps towards the establishment of the necessary legal and regulatory framework, through its Biosafety Law and the National Strategy for Implementation of Biosafety Framework.
He maintained the need for the advancement of biotechnology to be accompanied by a conscious effort towards educating, informing and disseminating factual information to enable key players – farmers, private sector players, extension service providers, consumers and journalists – to make informed decisions on the adoption, use and management of the technology.
“In the absence of key facts and figures, these stakeholders would base their decisions on misinformation. It is for this reason that the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology was established in 2006, to facilitate constructive conversations on agricultural biotechnology among key stakeholders.
“For both policymakers and the larger public, OFAB facilitates quality engagements and conversations on the safety and benefits of modern biotechnology. Through OFAB, AATF has provided candid leadership in “Biotechnology communication and advocacy, that has been instrumental in creating an enabling environment for biotechnology advances that are reshaping agriculture and improving food security in economies,” he added.
Kanangire highlighted AATF’s goal to take the platform to many more countries on the continent between now and early 2023. He said the goal remained knowledge and information-sharing to support decision-making at all levels.