Dr. Elioda Tumwesgye, Ugandan Minister for Science, Technology and Innovation has reaffirmed government support towards the passage of a Biosafety Bill currently under parliamentary debate. The Minister spoke as he officially opened the Agri-biotechnology and Biosafety Communication (ABBC) 2017 Africa Symposium, in Entebbe, Uganda on July 18, 2017. “Agri-biotech communicators must remain steadfast in sharing factual information on the technology, amid misinformation, myths and misconceptions. While acknowledging that there are concerns and knowledge gaps that need to be addressed, he commended Ugandan researchers for their relentless effort in engaging parliamentarians and providing factual information on the science amid controversies delaying passage of the bill. “When scientists undertake to communicate about their innovations, there is usually a positive impact in adoption,” said the minister.
ABBC 2017, whose theme is strengthening communication for improved biosafety management was attended by over 100 participants, mainly heads of regulatory agencies from 18 African countries who have made a biosafety decision and their communication spokespersons. It is a partnership between ISAAA AfriCenter, New Partnership for Africa’s Development- African Biosafety Network of Expertise, National Agricultural Research Organization, Uganda Biotechnology Information Center, and Program for Biosafety Systems, among others. It precedes the ABBC 2015, which was held in Nairobi, Kenya.
Dr. Margaret Karembu, Director, ISAAA AfriCenter in her opening statement said that ABBC’s idea was conceived to provide a platform for agri-biotech and biosafety stakeholders to actively exchange experiences and best practices towards improving communication on the technology. “At this conference, we converge to be aware that biosafety communication is an often neglected aspect of the risk analysis and decision-making process for genetically modified organisms (GMOs),” she said. Dr. Karembu urged participants to innovate communication techniques that can address communication gaps, thus building confidence in the biosafety systems and enabling the safe and beneficial use of agri-biotechnology especially in Africa.
The keynote speaker at the conference, Dr. Mahaletchumy Arujanan from Malaysian Biotechnology Information Centre (MABIC) challenged agri-biotech communicators to counter misinformation on the technology, through balanced and non-biased communication. “In adopting agri-biotechnology, we must ask ourselves whether it is a matter of lifestyle or safeguarding livelihood,” she said.
Other key speakers at the function included Hon. Beatrice Atim, an environmentalist and an MP in Uganda, Hon. Adam Malima, former Minister for Agriculture in Tanzania and Prof. Yaye Gessame, former Minister of Agriculture and the vice-Chair, Academy of Sciences, Senegal. Prof. Yaye took the opportunity to recognize Senegalese President, Macky Sall, for his commitment to adoption of agricultural biotechnology for the transformation of Senegal’s Agriculture.
The function was attended by key government officials, including the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation, Dr. David Ebong and Parliamentarians including the Chairperson of the Parliamentary Committee for Science Technology and Innovation in the Ugandan Parliament, Hon. Robert Kafeero.