At the AfriCenter, we believe that our work would be incomplete without delivering the benefits of modern biotechnology tools to small-holder African farmers. In 2018, we continued to channel our efforts towards this end.
In our core knowledge-sharing program, the Center unceasingly served information needs of different stakeholders for credible scientific information on global trends and socio-economic impacts of agri-biotech. We launched the ISAAA Annual report on Global Status of Commercialised Biotech/GM crops (Brief 53) in six African countries. The launches garnered over 5 million media impressions and maintained essential platforms for policy pronouncements. Easier to understand knowledge products, including a popular infographic highlighting the status of biotech crops in Africa, were repacked and distributed to various stakeholders. To highlight bioscience expertise in the region, and underscore its capacity, AfriCenter launched a monthly e-newsletter dubbed The DrumBeat. Launched in February 2018, we have dispatched 11 issues so far, and the newsletter is quickly gaining popularity and receiving positive feedback from the over 3,000 active subscribers.
To facilitate dialogue and encourage public participation, the Center, together with key partners, held various impactful awareness creation and outreach activities. In Kenya, these events have significantly contributed towards the positive momentum being witnessed with Bt cotton. So far, AfriCenter has worked closely with the government-led Bt cotton commercialization taskforce to produce an FAQ on Bt cotton, as well as facilitated an intensive sensitization drive. Our joint efforts are expected to get Bt cotton seeds into the hands of Kenyan farmers by 2020.
We exposed over 500 stakeholders to agri-biotech and biosafety advancements, both locally and globally, through our pioneer seeing-is-believing study tours. Notably, and in partnership with Government of Kenya through the Ministry of Industry, Trade, and Cooperatives, South Asia Biotechnology Center (SABC) and United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), close to 30 Kenyan delegates comprising of policy and decision makers, farmers, regulators and members of the Bt cotton taskforce participated in 2018 edition of the India study tour. The tour, which is part of AfriCenter’s annual series of exchange and outreach program under the India-Africa Agriculture Engagement, was instrumental in facilitating experiential learning and has played a fundamental role in informing Kenya’s Bt cotton adoption pathway.
To amplify farmers and women voices in the agri-biotech and biosafety discourse, AfriCenter facilitated the launch of two key networks, namely, the Society for Biotech Farmers of Kenya (SOBIFAK) and African Women for Biosciences (AWfB). These networks will play a key role in strengthening marginalized voices and enhancing appreciation for biotech crops.
In our continued quest to build the capacity of those who play a role in shaping public opinion on agricultural technology, we held close to 10 science communication training workshops, targeting over 200 participants, representing more than 15 countries. Majority of them have utilized the acquired skills to deliver responsive messages about their research to a lay audience. Further, the Center played a key role in preparing African delegates for the 2018 UN Biodiversity Convention COP-MOP9 that took place in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. The preparatory meetings provided an opportunity to raise awareness and harmonize the region’s perspectives on priority agenda items and identified opportunities for effective participation in the international biosafety negotiations. We actively participated in various events to dispel misconceptions that would adversely affect decisions at the meeting and attended contact groups’ and side events convened to discuss contentious agenda items.
AfriCenter continued to engage policy makers and key decision makers. We ensured that they remained alive to local and global progress on agri-biotech and biosafety. In Kenya, we worked towards aligning agri-biotech with the government’s Big Four agenda. As a result, the Center increased engagements between government officials and agricultural experts in order to create synergy between key players in the development and deployment of biotech crops.
Despite the wins, we recognize that more still needs to be done. The immense lost opportunities to make African agriculture competitive due to an upsurge of aggressive activism against modern biotechnology signifies the huge task ahead. In order to deliver superior seeds into the hands of resource-poor farmers across the continent, we need to go the distance. To keep moving, your continuous support and goodwill is key. AfriCenter congratulates Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria and Swaziland governments for making decisive steps towards placing biotech crops in the hands of farmers.
Thank you for being part of our amazing journey. On behalf of the AfriCenter family, I wish you and your loved ones a refreshing festive season and a prosperous 2019.
Margaret Karembu, PhD
Director, ISAAA AfriCenter/Chair, OFAB-Kenya