Science Groups in Europe and Africa to Back Biotech Development

Written by | Thursday, March 6th, 2014

Scientists from European and African academic associations – the Network of African Science Academies (NASAC) and the European Academies Science Advisory Council (EASAC) – have joined forces in calling for a greater use of biotechnology in African agriculture. NASAC and EASAC also collaborate on other challenges facing the African continent, such as water management, climate change and health. In a meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, last week, the scientists stressed that agricultural biotechnology could contribute to sustainable agriculture while providing nutrition to people across the continent where many of the world’s most food insecure regions are to be found.
The scientists also appealed to their respective governments to increase funding for the African-led research into agricultural biotechnology. According to Fatima Denton, a senior official from the climate policy centre at UN Economic Commission for Africa (UN-ECA), “African agriculture is increasingly vulnerable to environmental change as a result of climate variability and change. In this regard, biotechnology could help in breeding crop varieties that resist pests, crops that use less water, crops that use less fertilizer.” The meeting was an excellent venue for networking between scientists from both continents – for example, in one of the workshops, the European guests had the opportunity to discuss current state of biotechnology research by African scientists, such as efforts to create crops with improved vitamin content.
A full range of different approaches would have to be taken to make sure that the world’s rising population gets enough food, while combating climate change. To meet these challenges, the meeting in Addis Ababa emphasized that biotechnology, agro-ecology, agro-forestry, fertilizers, irrigations and tractors will be needed, along with whatever science human ingenuity can throw at the problem. At the same time, tapping into local knowledge of plant varieties could be more cost-effective in the long-run than attempting to extract more gains from Western food staples.
The Addis Ababa meeting was jointly funded by the German ministry of research and education (BMBF) and the UN-ECA. Since the population on the African continent is projected to grow to 1.8 billion by 2050, at least twice as much food must be produced each year to avoid widespread starvation. However, so far the trend has been exactly the opposite: it is quite telling that, when compared to South Asia, Latin America and East Asia, all of which have seen a considerable increase, food production per capita in Africa has been declining since the 1960s, and cereal crop yields have remained stagnant.

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