BIOTECHNOLOGY: THE TOOL AFRICA CANNOT AFFORD TO IGNORE
By: Prof. Torbjörn Fagerström, Dr. Roy B. Mugiira and Prof. Lisa Sennerby Forsse a) Värtavägen 39, SE 115 29 Stockholm, Sweden, b) Directorate of Research Management and Development, State Department of Science and Technology, Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, Nairobi, Republic of Kenya, c) Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU), Box 7070, Uppsala, S-750 07 Sweden.
Research in life sciences will have equal importance for society in the 21st century as research in physics, chemistry and electronics had in the 20th. We will introduce biological production systems, which are ultimately driven by the sun. These will give us not only fuel and food, but also a multitude of novel products including a sustainable flow of raw materials to many industrial processes. This will be achieved by putting science and technology in its rightful place, in order to reach its full potential. We share this vision with the US President Barak Obama, who in his inauguration speech said “We’ll restore science to its rightful place ... We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories”.
Developments in cellular and molecular biology give us greater possibilities to control processes of the photosynthesis driven chemical factory and to select which end products it will deliver. Knowledge of the genes and proteins that control different biosynthesis pathways opens opportunities to create plants that produce entirely new products through genetic engineering. This technological leap is an excellent example of how basic research, often conducted on non-commercial model organisms, relatively quickly can be converted into new innovations of high societal relevance.
The breeding objectives are not entirely new, many have been central to plant breeding throughout history and are continued in today’s breeding programs. These include improving the plant’s qualitative characteristics, productivity and resource efficiency, which combine to strengthen agriculture and forestry production. The use of technology gives us the possibility to apply these breeding objectives to plant growth, including interactions with the surrounding abiotic and biotic environment.
Plant breeding and biotechnology
The development of plant breeding has largely been made possible by the advancement of methodology within the field of experimental biology. Applications of biotechnology in plant breeding thus follow well-trodden paths in which different techniques come together to form the tools available to the breeder. The first modernization of plant breeding took place in the early 1900s, marked by Darwin’s theories and the rediscovery of Mendelian genetics. The majority of technological breakthroughs in genetics and cell and molecular biology have come during the latter part of the 1900s, which has affected the breeding methods used. Examples of techniques are cell and tissue cultures for virus-free propagation, chromosomaldoubling to enable polyploidisation, crosses of closely related species, somatic hybridization to enable hybrid seed production, and mutational breeding using ionizing radiation and mutagenic substances.
During the past decade, advances in DNA sequencing technology, combined with the ability to handle large amounts of data, set the stage for large-scale methods to identify particular genes carried by an organism, and determine when and under what conditions the different characteristics are expressed. This technology is only in its infancy, and further development will likely provide increased opportunities to both understand and control various biological processes, and to use molecular markers to select for increasingly complex characteristics. Through genetic engineering, it is possible to determine which genes should be carried over to the plant. Other technologies that are expected to have great impact in the next 5-10- year period are different techniques for mutagenesis of individual genes.
Sustainability and Productivity
Too often the term “sustainability” in an agriculture context is decoupled from discussions about productivity. This is unfortunate as it is obviously not a problem to create production systems that are sustainable - in an ecological sense - if you do not have any requirements for them to be productive.
If, for example, an acceptable return of a cereal crop were 500 kg per hectare, there would be no need to cultivate the soil, add nutrients or employ pest and weed control measures. Such a system would obviously not be sustainable in the other important dimensions of sustainability, namely, socially and economically.
The challenge for the future is to create production systems that are socially, economically and ecologically sustainable, while simultaneously both environmentally friendly and productive. One of the central tasks in plant biotechnology is to meet that challenge.
The total energy reaching the earth from the sun is about 10 000 times greater than the total energy supplied to all human societies in the form of oil, coal, gas, hydropower, nuclear power and biofuels. When this energy is transferred to biomass more than 90 % is lost, with slight variation between C3 and C4 plants.
It has long been understood that if you could increase this efficiency there would be tremendous gains in terms of productivity, in all forms of photosynthesis-driven production. It has, however, proved very difficult to achieve any substantial improvements using traditional breeding methods.
With biotechnology’s advanced and more accurate methods the situation is now different. There are possibilities to alter certain parts of the photosynthetic machinery. One example is a well-established project supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and a major initiative by the International Rice Research Institute IRRI. The project aims to transform rice from being a C3 plant into a C4 plant, which is expected to raise the yield of this important staple crop by 50%.
In practice, agriculture and forestry can miss out on as much as 60-65% of the potential biological returns due to abiotic stress factors. These factors include high or low temperature, insufficient water supply, improper pH, elevated salinity or insufficient nutrients available in the soil. Results from studies on eight of the most important agricultural crops in the United States show that it should be possible to increase the yield considerably by increasing the plants’ tolerance to one or more of the major abiotic stress factors. In many important farming systems, access to water has decreased sharply, which requires both better management of water resources and development of crop varieties with improved tolerance to drought. The Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) project is designed to deliver a maize variety that is tolerant to drought.
Recently, several breeding companies have introduced transgenic drought tolerant varieties of maize. Other crops that have been designed to be grown with less water are soybean, cotton, rice, sugarcane and wheat. Furthermore, there are varieties developed that are capable of growing in soils with salinity levels too high for the “regular” varieties, or that can handle increased fluctuations in temperature, as well as average temperatures that are higher or lower than those normally preferred. All these properties are of course also important when it comes to adapting our farming systems to future climate change.
Plants using the most common form of photosynthesis in which atmospheric CO2 is used to build 3 phosphoglycerate; a sugar molecule with three carbon atoms.
Plants using a form of photosynthesis in which atmospheric CO2 is fixed into a sugar molecule comprised of four carbon atoms instead of 3-phosphoglycerate; increasing the photosynthetic efficiency in hot and dry environments. Several companies have introduced transgenic, drought-tolerant varieties of corn. Corn is an example of a C4 plant that generally has an advantage over C3 plants in hot and dry climates.
Globally, the losses from disease, pests and weed competition, termed biotic stress, are significant. On going research against a broad range of biotic stress factors may confer resistance against several diseases that affect important crops and trees.
Viruses and bacteria
It is often difficult to achieve satisfactory resistance to viruses with traditional plant breeding methods, and resistance is often controlled by several genes. The most common ways to prevent the spread and damage of viruses in crops include the use of insecticides to combat the insects that spread the virus, weed control, since weeds can serve as host plants, and the use of certified, virus-free planting materials. With modern plant biotechnology techniques, however, acceptable results can be achieved to produce resistant varieties. Currently, resistance against over 20 different viral diseases has been induced in a large number of plant species including tobacco, melon, squash, rice, papaya, potatoes and sugar beet. The Virus Resistant Cassava for Africa Project seeks to develop and deliver cassava varieties that are resistant to the main virus diseases that affect the crop.
A bacterial disease – Yellow Dragon Disease – causes oranges to remain green and fail to become sweet in the commercial plantations in Asia, Africa and recently also in the US. The bacteria are spread by leaf hoppers, and oranges made resistant to these leaf hoppers avoid the disease.
Another bacterial disease has almost wiped out the American chestnut tree, which previously dominated the forests of the eastern United States. The bacteria secrete oxalic acid (the acidic substance found in rhubarb) that damages plants and allows the bacteria to spread. Many plants have the enzyme oxalate oxidase that degrades oxalic acid, but this is lacking in the chestnuts. Through inserting a gene from wheat, chestnut trees have been created that are able to degrade oxalic acid, rendering them resistant to the bacteria.
Virtually all crops are attacked by one or more severe fungal diseases, which are usually controlled chemically using fungicides. It is important to combat fungal infections, as many fungi produce toxic substances called mycotoxins, which we do not want in our food.
A plant disease that has long attracted particular interest is late blight (Phytophthora infestans) in potatoes. The pathogen, which according to the taxonomy belongs to the group Oomycete and thus is not closely related to the true fungi that cause many other fungal diseases, attacks the leaves first and then moves into the tubers where it induces brown rot. Almost all current varieties of potato are sensitive and must be sprayed extensively during the entire growing season to keep the fungus away and secure the harvest. It has long been known that many wild potato species in the Andes of South America are resistant to late blight. The first field trials of the variety Fortuna, developed by Swedish researchers, containing two resistance genes from Solanum bulbocastaneum, were carried out in 2006. The variety was planned to be marketed in 2013- 2014, but was withdrawn prior to commercialization in large due to the politically slanted approval process for GM crops in Europe. This conferred a great loss to both farmers and the environment.
Insecticides are globally the most widely used group of agricultural chemicals. Despite the fact that the chemical control of insects in agriculture has been very successful, crop losses caused by insects in the field and during storage account for almost 25% of total world agricultural production. Many insecticides are highly toxic and major health and environmental benefits are obvious if these could be replaced by a strategy that is based on insect resistant plants instead of chemical spraying. Identification, isolation and transfer of genes conferring resistance is a central focus within plant biotechnology. Plants that produce their own insecticides is another direction which has proved very successful, but biotechnology is also open to other, perhaps even more elegant methods.
To date, most development work is focused on Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), a soil bacterium that produces a crystalline protein that when broken down in the digestive tract of susceptible insects forms a toxic substance. The majority of Bt strains produce toxins that are specific to a group of related insect species. There are, for example, Bt strains only affecting butterflies and moths. Similarly, there are Bt strains that are specific to the beetles, meaning they are effective against every pests like the Colorado beetle and cotton weevil. Other strains produce toxins that are specific to species within the order of flies and mosquitoes.
Genes encoding a number of Bt proteins have been cloned and introduced in, for example, tobacco, cotton, maize and potato. Since 1996 maize with Bt resistance to European corn borer (Ostrinia nubilalis) has been available and in 2003 varieties with resistance to the beetle Western corn root worm (Diabrotica v. virgifera) were introduced. Bt maize was grown in 2012 on 75 million hectares globally. The cultivation of Bt cotton with resistance to cotton weevil (Anthonomus grandis) has also been grown extensively.
The global total acreage in 2012 was almost 19 million hectares, mainly in India, China and Pakistan. Another way to provide insect resistance in plants is based on the introduction of genes that control the production of specific plant proteins that disrupt insect digestion. Examples are “Cowpea trypsin inhibitor” which stems from the legume blackeyed bean (Vigna unguiculata) grown in West Africa and South America, and a lectin from snow drop (Galanthus nivalis) that confers resistance to sucking insects.
A third way is based on influencing insect behavior through pheromones. Synthetic pheromones are already used successfully for species-specific and environmentally friendly pest control, and are a viable alternative to conventional insecticides. The cost of synthetic pheromones is very high– from 600 to 4,000 Euros per kg. This limits the use of insect pheromones in pest control to crops with high value. Researchers in Sweden have shown that it is possible to develop oil crops where the seed produces pheromone components in the oil.
Using simple chemistry these can be converted to active pheromones at less than 20 percent of the cost of current cheapest synthesized pheromone. Many insect pheromones are based on substances that can also be synthesized by plants. The same research group has successfully introduced the synthetic pathways for insect pheromones in plant leaves with a combination of plant and insect genes. They have further shown that the pheromones produced in the plant are as, or almost as, effective as synthetic pheromones when it comes to capturing the actual pests in pheromone traps. In addition, an even more elegant method is within reach, where plants emit pheromones that confuse male insects so they are prevented from finding and mating with females. This means no eggs are laid and no caterpillars develop that can damage the plants.
Nutritional fortification It is often argued that the use of genetic engineering in plants so far only has resulted in improvements in the interest of the farmers and major plant breeding companies. According to this view, there would be a greater acceptance of the technology if the modifications were of direct interest to the consumer and society. The reality, however, is quite different. One obvious example of a GM crop impeded, despite obvious consumer and societal benefits, is “Golden Rice”.
This rice has the ability to synthesize β-carotene (provitamin A) in the grain when it is usually only found in the green parts of the plant. The idea behind Golden Rice is that by making it a vitamin A source it can combat the deficiency of vitamin A that leads to blindness in children in countries where rice is staple food.
Despite the fact it is ten years since the introduction of Golden Rice, and new varieties with more than 10 times as much β-carotene have been developed, cultivation has been modest, mainly due to extensive propaganda from anti-GMO activists. Many other projects are underway aiming to increase the nutritional value of various crops. Examples include sweet potatoes with a higher content of β-carotene, “multivitamin-maize”, carrots with doubled calcium, tomatoes with 20% more antioxidants, and cassava with higher content of iron, protein and vitamins. A global project with cassava began in 2005 aimed at developing varieties with both higher levels of vitamins and minerals and to provide resistance to major diseases.
Where is Africa in the Modern Agricultural Biotechnology Development?
Africa’s development narrative is characterized by a rising population with its commensurate demand for more food; deficiencies of vital dietary nutrients in the continent’s population; the continent’s vulnerability to the negative impacts of climate change such as droughts; the reducing area of arable land due to rapid urbanization; the declining soil fertility in the continent’s hither-to bread baskets; and the tropical biotic constraints to agricultural productivity. In view of this narrative, the adoption of modern agricultural biotechnology to mitigate against these impediments to human wellbeing and development cannot wait any longer.
Agriculture is one of the major users of modern biotechnology and worldwide adoption of the technology in commercial planting of genetically modified (GM) crops continues to be rapid. However, despite the tremendous outputs of the various Pan African programs in form of institutional capacity building for research, training, product development, policy and regulation, as well as practical recommendations by expert groups, the adoption of modern biotechnology in Africa remains low, resulting in minimal participation of Africa in the global biotechnology enterprise. Modern agricultural biotechnology is viewed as an additional tool in the breeder´s tool box, which presents an opportunity for increased agricultural productivity through mitigation of biotic and abiotic stresses that constrain production. Further, the technology has found application in enhancing or unleashing the full nutritional value of food crops through bio-fortification and silencing of genes responsible for the synthesis of anti-nutritional compounds.
In recognition of this opportunity and potential, African political, business and civil society leadership have invested in deliberate efforts to harness science and technology generally, and modern biotechnology in agriculture specifically through dedicated programs that address specific needs in the application of the technology, including stewardship to ensure its proper deployment. Agricultural biotechnology has been billed as the single technology that has witnessed phenomenal growth in adoption within a very short time.
This is testament to biotechnology’s great potential in delivering real benefits to humankind. Besides direct benefits derived from tangible products of modern biotechnology in commercial production systems, there are many other benefits from its application as a tool in various processes such as plant breeding and study of gene function. In this ever expanding agricultural biotechnology enterprise, Africa has however remained largely hesitant to adopt the technology.
To support the development of the nascent biotechnology enterprise in the continent, African governments will need to partner with private sector and civil society actors who are working to deliver agricultural biotechnology benefits to the people of Africa. Examples of such potential partners include the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) which was established to negotiate royalty free agricultural technology (including biotechnology) and the Golden Rice project, which is working towards delivering the Vitamin A bio-fortified rice to Africa.
Governance of Modern Biotechnology Development and Biosafety Regulation in Africa
The governance of modern biotechnology stems from the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), a protocol that was globally negotiated and adopted in Cartagena, Colombia in 2000. The core objective of the Protocol is to ensure the safe handling, transport and use of GMOs resulting from modern biotechnology that may have adverse effects on biological diversity, taking also into account potential risks to human health. To reinforce the legal liability provisions of the Protocol, a supplementary protocol on liability and redress was negotiated and adopted in Nagoya, Japan in 2010.
The majority of African countries are parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety and a number have ratified its Supplementary Protocol on Liability and Redress. Taking cue from the Protocol, the African Model Law and drawing from the European approach to modern biotechnology, the governance of modern biotechnology in Africa is characterized by an extreme precautionary approach. This has become a major hindrance to the development and application of modern biotechnology in the continent.
The idea behind golden rice is that by making it a vitamin a source it can combat the deficiency of Vitamin A that leads to blindness in children in countries where rice is staple food.
In compliance with the provisions of the Protocol, individual party states embarked on the development of their domestic policy, legal and regulatory frameworks to govern modern biotechnology. African states are at various stages of developing their biotechnology policy and biosafety regulatory frameworks, having benefited from the United Nations Environment Program – Global Environment Facility (UN-GEF). Most of their regulatory frameworks however, have leaned heavily on the extreme precautionary approach of the Protocol as guided by the African Model Law and drawing from the European approach.
But while Africa continues to hold on to the extreme precautionary approach, ostensibly taking cue from Europe, the European Union (EU) has moved on to re-invent its approach to modern biotechnology development and biosafety regulation to facilitate importation of Genetically Modified (GM) soybeans for processing animal feeds from Brazil and Argentina. It is therefore unwise for Africa to keep shunning modern agricultural biotechnology assuming that it is in line with the EU approach. Africa should therefore adopt the co-evolutionary approach where consumer and biodiversity safety goes hand in hand with the development of the technology. This calls for the review and adjustment of national and regional policies together with their related legislation to provide a conducive environment for the development and application of agricultural biotechnology.
In conducting the review, African governments are encouraged to lay emphasis on maximizing the benefits associated with modern biotechnology and science based risk assessment to inform decision making.
At the regional level, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), the West African Economic Community (ECOWAS) and the East African Community (EAC) have initiated harmonization of biotechnology policy and biosafety regulation. Harmonized approaches are cost effective, uniform in approach to risk assessment, assure seamless intra-regional trade and help address the unique informal exchange of commodities across national boundaries.
African governments need to facilitate and actively participate in the process of regional biotechnology policies and biosafety regulation harmonization initiatives to reduce the cost of regulation, leverage on synergies and support the growth of regional biotechnology businesses.
Africa should pursue a dynamic 21st century, home grown biotechnology policy and biosafety regulatory regime that assures the maximum benefits from modern biotechnology and takes advantage of the continent’s youthful, well-educated population to support the deployment of the technology and its associated stewardship.
Africa’s biosafety regulatory institutions need high quality scientific capacity to be able to regulate quickly, safely and effectively. This will ensure that Africa does not miss out on the Gene Revolution in the same way she missed out on the Green Revolution.
A positive political will and drive is critical to the adoption of agricultural biotechnology in Africa. The enthusiasm with which African governments ratified the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety and the commitment to the development of their national policies and regulatory frameworks testifies to their positive will and drive to ensure that Africa is fully integrated into the global biotechnology enterprise. In spoken and written policy statements, the current generation of African government leaders have acknowledged the benefits of agricultural biotechnology and expressed positive sentiments in supportof its adoption.
However, despite these positive policy pronouncements, biosafety regulatory regimes of most African states remain extremely restrictive to the development and adoption of modern biotechnology.
Concerns and Perceptions
The most frequently expressed concern over modern biotechnology, and which informed the negotiation and adoption of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, is the environmental and health safety of the technology. The precautionary principle portends that modern biotechnology is inherently risky to human and animal health and the conservation of biodiversity.
Experience over the past two decades with modern biotechnology in agriculture, environment and health applications, with over 180 million hectares cultivated with GM crops, has demonstrated beyond any reasonable doubt that modern biotechnology does not present any health or environmental risk. To the contrary, it has been demonstrated that the technology presents real health and environmental benefits. As early as 1999, the Nuffield Council on Bioethics concluded that “There is a compelling moral imperative to make genetically modified crops readily available to developing countries who want them, to help combat world hunger and poverty” and that “…genetic modification of plants does not differ to such an extent from conventional plant breeding that it is in itself morally objectionable”.
Finally, and most dear to the African socio-cultural setting, is the ethical question in which genetic engineering has been equated to playing God by altering the original creation or even creating new organisms.
Opinion expressed by the European Commission Research Area – Food, Agriculture and Fisheries and Biotechnology has put the issue of safety of modern biotechnology to rest, stating thus: “The main conclusion to be drawn from the efforts of more than 130 research projects, covering a period of more than 25 years of research, and involving more than 500 independent research groups, is that biotechnology, and in particular GMOs, are not per se more risky than conventional plant breeding technologies”. Further advice given to the European Union by the European Academies Science Advisory Council (EASAC) goes to reinforce the previous one, stating thus: “There is no validated evidence that GM crops have greater adverse impact on health and the environment than any other technology used in plant breeding. There is compelling evidence that GM crops can contribute to sustainable development goals with benefits to farmers, consumers, the environment and the economy”.
The other issue of concern is socio-economic in nature, with the argument that modern biotechnology is a frontage of multinational agribusiness companies with the intention of dominating the global seed system thereby impoverishing the masses. The argument goes further to posit that modern biotechnology is not beneficial to small scale resource poor farmers.
To reinforce these arguments cases have been cited of increases in farmer suicides in India following the introduction of GM crops due to frustrations resulting from their inability to afford GM crop seeds. Formal case studies conducted in India and other parts of the world have however dispelled these arguments.
Finally, and most dear to the African socio-cultural setting, is the ethical question in which genetic engineering has been equated to playing God by altering the original creation or even creating new organisms. Although this argument is difficult to conceptualize from a scientific point of view, it stems from the technology’s ability to overcome species barriers in exchange of genetic material. It makes sense to a religious adherent for example whose religious beliefs forbid using some organisms as food and may therefore consider trans-genes from such organisms to have transferred the taboo. The question is whether transferring a DNA fragment amounts to transferring the whole organism’s traits.This fixed mind set can only be overcome by effective public education programs to debunk myths and counter deliberate distortion of facts by anti-biotechnology crusaders.
The Global Agricultural Biotechnology Enterprise
The global hectarage of GM crops has increased more than 100-fold from 1.7 million hectares in 1996 to over 180 million hectares in 2014, making GM crops the fastest adopted crop technology in recent history.
This adoption rate is a clear testimony of the technology’s resilience and the benefits it delivers to farmers and consumers. Africa continues to make progress with Burkina Faso and Sudan increasing their GM insect resistant Bt. Cotton hectarage substantially. What should be of great concern to African government and business leaders is the fact that in international trade, Europe imports GM products from South Africa, Brazil and Argentina and a lot of food imports into Africa including emergency food aid are sourced from countries growing GM crops. This demonstrates that the commonly held fear of losing the EU as an export market if Africa adopts modern biotechnology is unfounded.
Several African countries (Uganda, Kenya, Ghana, and Nigeria) have been conducting confined field trials on various GM crops for far too long without moving to the commercialization stage. They have therefore remained at the periphery of the global biotechnology enterprise. There is an urgent need and farmer demands to move these crops to commercialization since the trials have demonstrated their potential to positively impact on the continent’s macro- and micro-economics.
The potential for enhanced cotton production through the use of GM insect resistant Bt. cotton will position Africa to reap maximum benefits from the provisions of the Africa Growth Opportunity Act (AGOA) of the United States of America.
AFRICAN COUNTRIES LEADING IN BIOTECHNOLOGY RESEARCH
- South Africa
- Burkina Faso
The first generation GM crops targeted herbicide tolerance, which was not seen as beneficial to Africa. The situation has since changed with a focus on crops and traits of great relevance to Africa including nutrient bio-fortification, drought and insect tolerance and overcoming the aflatoxin problems in storage. In this emerging sector, China has become a key player in the provision of seeds in partnership with local seed associations and public institutions. This kind of partnership is important in addressing Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) and demands of other international trade standards such as the CODEX alimentarius.
Despite the demonstrated safety and potential for agricultural biotechnology, Egypt has since 2012 suspended the cultivation of GM maize after health concerns were raised in response to the controversial publication by a group of French scientists led by Séralini. Kenya also responded to the publication by banning importation of GM foods.
Capacity for Biotechnology Research, Product Development and Deployment African governments have developed robust science and technology policies that are geared towards the transformation of their economies into knowledge driven economies. Collectively African governments, under the AU have launched specific initiatives to position the continent in the global knowledge economy through science, technology and innovation generally and biotechnology specifically. As a result, Africa’s contribution to the global knowledge index through innovations and patents has seen a steady increase.
Inadequate infrastructure, human and institutional capacity for agricultural biotechnology research and product development is a major obstacle to Africa’s desire of becoming a key participant in the global biotechnology enterprise. The ability of African countries to effectively use existing and emerging biotechnologies depends largely on the level of investment in building physical, human and institutional capacities. More specifically, Africa needs to focus on creating and reforming existing knowledge based institutions, especially universities and national science academies, to serve as centers of new technology diffusion into the economy and to develop a comprehensive continental biotechnology curriculum for all levels of education, focusing on specific areas that offer high economic returns for the continent. This can be achieved through effective partnerships and collaborations for Research and Development (R&D) in Biotechnology product development.
Article 20 and 23 of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety provide for a global information sharing mechanism through the Biosafety Clearing House (BCH) and public awareness and participation respectively. Public awareness and engagement in matters of biotechnology is needed at all levels in Africa to be able to roll-out the technology for application in commercial and subsistence production systems in Africa.
Without exaggeration, one could argue that the technological developments in experimental biology and its applications in medicine, agriculture and forestry are comparable to developments in computer science. It is impossible to predict which specific techniques that will dominate in the future, but the aim of the proposed agenda is to point out the possibilities and the importance of supporting a continued technical development of plant breeding based on the scientific discoveries of the1900s and 2000s. If we are to meet the challenges to feed an increased population and at the same time achieve the goal of a bio-based economy we need the best knowledge available and cannot afford to rule out modern science but instead let it work for us.
Suggested further reading
- Bailey R., Willoughby R. and Grzywacz D. (2014) On trial: Agricultural Biotechnology in Africa. Energy, Environment and Resources, July 2014.
- Chambers J.A., Zambrano P., Falck-Zepeda J., Gruère G., Sengupta D. and Hokanson K. (2014) GM Technologies for Africa: A state of affairs. International Food Policy Research Institute and African Development Bank. Washington, USA.
- European Academies Science Advisory Council (EASAC) (2013) Planting the future: Opportunities and challenges for using crop genetic improvement technologies for sustainable agriculture. Policy Report 21. DVZ-Daten-Service GmbH, Halle/Saale, Germany. ISBN: 978-3-8047-3181-3.
- European Union (2010) A decade of EU-Funded GMO Research 2001–2010. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union, 2010.
- James C. (2014) Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM crops: 2013. ISAAA Brief No. 46. ISAAA Ithaca, NY. Juma C. and Serageldin I. (Lead Authors) (2007) Freedom to Innovate: Biotechnology in Africa’s Development. A Report of High-Level African Panel on Modern Biotechnology. African Union (AU) and Partnership for African Development (NEPAD). Addis Ababa and Pretoria.
- Minde I.J. and Kizito M. (2007) The Economics of Biotechnology (GMOs) and the Need for a Regional Policy: The Case for COMESA Countries. AAAE Conference Proceedings (2007) 377–381. Mugiira, R. B. and Miano D. (Eds) (2015). Harnessing Agricultural Biotechnology for Africa’s Economic Development: recommendations for policymakers. Network of African Science Academies (NASAC), Nairobi, Kenya.
- Nicolia A., Manzo A., Veronesi F. and Rosellini D. (2013) An overview of the last 10 years of genetically engineered crop safety research. Critical Reviews of Biotechnology, Early Online 1-12. DOI: 10.3109/07388551.2013.823595.
- OAU (2002) African Model Law on Safety in Biotechnology. OAU, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
- Qaim M. (2009) The economics of genetically modified crops. Annual Review of Resource Economics 1:665–693. doi: 10.1146/annurev.resource.050708.144203.
- Sasson A (2008) Agricultural biotechnology applications in Africa. In: Taeb, M.; Zakri, A. H. (eds.) Agriculture, human security and peace. A crossroad in African development, pp. 157-187. Purdue University Press. West Lafayette, Indiana.
- Séralini G-E., Clair E., Mesnage R., Gress S., Defarge N., Malatesta M., Hennequin D. and De Vendômois J.S. (2012) Long term toxicity of a roundup herbicide and a roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize. Food and Chemical Toxicology. http://dx.doi. org/10.1016/j.fct.2012.08.005.
- Sundström J. and Fagerström T. (2014) The Warped World of Parallel Science. The Wall Street Journal. Wednesday, October 29, 2014.
- Traore H., Hema S.A.O. and Traore K. (2014) Bt cotton in Burkina Faso demonstrates that political will is key for biotechnology to benefit commercial agriculture in Africa. In Biotechnology in Africa (Edited by F. Wambugu and D. Kamanga). Science Policy Reports 7, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-04001-1_3
- Wambugu F.M. (2014) The importance of political will in contributions of Agricultural biotechnology towards economic growth, food and nutritional security in Africa. In: Biotechnology in Africa (Edited by F. Wambugu and D. Kamanga). Science Policy Reports 7, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-04001-1_3.