The ABBC Symposium was borne out of a dire need for a consistent platform that brings together agri-biotech and biosafety stakeholders to actively exchange experiences and best practices towards improving bioscience communications. Despite tremendous progress with agri-biotech research across a number of African countries, success towards commercialization and adoption remains threatened by limited support from policy makers and the public. To bridge this gap and frame the agri-biotech and biosafety narrative in line with Africa’s unique context, ISAAA AfriCenter stood in the gap and led the ambitious task of establishing the first Africa-based and African-led bioscience communications platform.
Since its inception in 2015, the ABBC platform has undergone a noteworthy evolution, extending its focus beyond the realm of crop biotechnology to address a broader spectrum of pressing issues in the field of bioscience. The inaugural Symposium, held in Nairobi, Kenya, brought together over 150 delegates from 30 countries to seek ways of addressing stakeholder information needs, improve engagement strategies and messaging on crop biotechnology. In 2017, the ABBC community gathered in Entebbe, Uganda, to explore ways of strengthening communication for improved biosafety management. In 2019, the Symposium took place in Pretoria, South Africa, and initiated conscious conversations on framing the genome editing narrative. Over 100 participants from 16 countries vowed to mobilize efforts to #GetCRISPRight through a declaration that called for the establishment of an African Coalition for Communicating about Genome Editing. The Coalition was launched during ABBC 2021, that was held at an opportune time when the region had made significant progress on adoption of biotech crops. The fourth edition, graced by over 1200 delegates, focused on taking stock, #CelebratingGains and consolidating lessons needed to inspire and propel the continent forward. A key recommendation from ABBC 2021 was the need to adopt a transdisciplinary approach to avert challenges and concerns that dominated the GMO debate.
As the ABBC Symposium matured, it recognized the need to encompass a wider range of topics and concerns relevant to bioscience in Africa. This evolution was partly driven by the growing awareness of the interconnectedness of various scientific disciplines and their impact on the ambitious plans, goals and priorities of Africa’s Agenda 2063. In 2023, the Symposium built on lessons and reflections from previous sessions and diversified its agenda to incorporate discussions on topics such as animal biotechnology, food systems, and the contributary role of bio-innovations towards planetary health. The just concluded Symposium explored whether communication is matching up with the evolution of genetic improvement tools in agriculture. It also integrated a session on bio-entrepreneurship, and provided Africa’s next-generation bioscience researchers with a platform to showcase promising bio-innovations that can solve some of the region’s most pressing problems. The selected pitches will receive mentorship from industry experts and get a place in an incubation program at the Africa Bioscience Hubs (AfriBIOHubs) established by the Feed the Future Striga Smart Sorghum for Africa (SSSfA) project.
The ABBC Symposium has become a shining beacon on the continent, fostering dialogue and knowledge dissemination in the field of bioscience. This important platform matters, not just to Africa but to the world at large, as it contributes towards five key issues:
- Amplifying African Voices: Historically, much of the global conversation on bioscience has been dominated by perspectives from the global north. The ABBC Symposium amplifies African voices, enabling the continent to take a leading role in shaping the discourse around bioscience and its ethical, social, and environmental implications. It also provides a platform for African scientists and researchers to showcase their work and innovations on an international stage. This can attract attention and funding opportunities, potentially leading to further research and development projects.
- Bridging the Knowledge Gap: The ABBC Symposium serves as a bridge between the scientific community and the public. It provides a platform for scientists, researchers, policymakers, regulators, and communicators to come together and discuss critical issues in bioscience and explore ways of improving science communication strategies tailored to African contexts. In a continent as diverse as Africa, where access to scientific information can be limited, this symposium acts as a vital conduit for disseminating knowledge.
- Enhancing Policy Development: Effective science communication is crucial in shaping evidence-based policies. The ABBC Symposium fosters dialogue between scientists, policymakers, and regulators, facilitating the development of policies and regulatory frameworks that are grounded in scientific evidence and tailored to African needs. Since ABBC 2019, Kenya, Nigeria and Malawi have adopted facilitative regulatory regimes for genome editing, whereas Ethiopia and Ghana have draft guidelines that also follow a product-based regulatory approach.
- Promoting Collaboration: The ABBC Symposium encourages cross-disciplinary collaboration by bringing together professionals from various backgrounds. This collaborative approach is essential for tackling complex issues that require multifaceted solutions. In addition to intra-African collaboration, the symposium can also facilitate collaboration between African scientists and researchers from other parts of the world. This global perspective can lead to more comprehensive and impactful research projects. The Feed the Future Striga Smart Sorghum for Africa project was conceptualized through collaborative efforts between the Africa Coalition for Communicating about Genome Editing’s Kenya and Ethiopia Chapters. The project has embraced a multidisciplinary approach with multi-sectoral teams coming from biological, environmental and social sciences, as well as communications and law.
- Inspiring the Next Generation Researchers: By incorporating a bio-entrepreneurship component, the Symposium provides a unique opportunity for young African scientists and communicators to learn from their peers and mentors. Through nurturing talent and passion in biosciences, the ABBC Symposium is helping to create a generation of professionals who are well-equipped to address the continent’s challenges.
In conclusion, the ABBC Symposium matters because it is a catalyst for progress, collaboration, and inclusivity in the field of bioscience. By fostering communication and collaboration, it empowers Africa to harness the full potential of bio-innovations for the benefit of its people and the world. It is a platform where the continent’s challenges become opportunities and where its voices are heard loud and clear, contributing to a brighter and more sustainable future for all. As we prepare to hold ABBC 2025 in West Africa, we invite all interested partners to join our efforts towards informing policies and shaping markets for ethical and appropriate bio-innovations in Africa.
For information on how to participate in ABBC 2025, reach out to Dr. Margaret Karembu, MBS on firstname.lastname@example.org