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Dear friends of ISAAA AfriCenter,

The agricultural biotechnology landscape is not short of challenges. Despite the odds, Africa made remarkable progress with the number of countries planting biotech crops more than doubling, from three in 2018, to seven in 2021. Four others continued to show promise through field trials focusing on crops and traits of high relevance to challenges facing the region. This significant advancement has positioned the continent for increased adoption. To accelerate progress towards this tipping point, the Africa Biennial Biosciences Communication (ABBC 2021) symposium facilitated a rich exchange of experiences from more than a decade of biosafety, biotech research, outreach and advocacy. ABBC 2021 provided a platform for reflecting and taking stock of Africa's agricultural biotechnology progress, while celebrating gains. Some of the lessons from three leading adopter countries, namely Kenya, Malawi and Nigeria, were captured in mini-documentaries that were screened during the symposium. ABBC 2021's outcomes, detailed out in this conference proceedings, and recommendations, captured in the communique , will act as a catalyst to reposition the region for growth and greater impact. In addition, ABBC 2019's aspirations of setting up an African Coalition for Communicating about Genome Editing was actualised during this symposium. The coalition provides a platform that facilitates collaboration, enabling partners to synergize efforts and focus on a shared commitment to shaping the narrative and public perceptions on genome editing application in Africa. Membership registration is on-going, don't be left behind!

Another major win for agricultural biotechnology in Africa in 2021, was the environmental release approval (open field cultivation) of two food crops - disease resistant cassava in Kenya, and TELA maize in Nigeria. ISAAA AfriCenter led the first-ever virtual public participation for an environmental release application in Africa, which contributed to the first approval of a genetically modified (GM) cassava world over. We shared our unique experience with the Golden Rice project in the Philippines, ahead of their public participation process. Five key lessons from managing this activity amidst a pandemic were documented for similar biotech projects to borrow from.

In our continued quest to serve information needs of various stakeholders, we developed several simplified knowledge products, including our popular Top-Ten Facts Series on Biotech and Biosafety in Africa, and the VIRCA Plus project in Kenya. We also stayed ahead of the misinformation curve by promptly highlighting Africa's early take-off in genome editing through a Brief that continues to capture lead projects in the region. The DrumBeat, our monthly e-newsletter, kept a pulse on Africa's progress in biosciences, and consistently updated close to 5,000 subscribers through expert opinions and short videos that highlighted trends making waves across the region. We exposed over 100 stakeholders to biotech advancements in Africa through our pioneer seeing-is-believing study tours to Bt cotton farmer fields and GM cassava field trials. The study tours are playing a fundamental role in building stakeholder confidence, sustaining political goodwill, and bolstering farmers' support and capacity in commercial cultivation of biotech crops. More than 50 impactful awareness creation and outreach events were held, physically and virtually, to facilitate dialogue and encourage public participation. These events have significantly contributed towards the positive momentum being witnessed in Africa.

In our efforts to build the public engagement capacity of those who shape society's opinion on agricultural innovations, we held five science communication training workshops targeting close to 150 participants, representing more than 20 countries covering Africa, south Asia and southeast Asia. The trainings have equipped recipients with requisite skills to engage non-technical audiences in order to translate science into policy and/or practice. To set up Kenya for Bt cotton success, AfriCenter trained farmers on stewardship and developed a model interactive mobile-web based e-learning platform that is replicable and will enable real-time linkages between farmers and experts in Africa.

The Center continued to engage policy and decision makers towards aligning agricultural biotechnology with key government agendas. Efforts towards addressing biosafety regulatory overlaps were intensified, and attempts to create an enabling environment reinvigorated. Overcoming policy and regulatory hurdles demands intentional, bold, consistent and concerted efforts through a multisectoral approach. Working closely with private sector players, including animal feed manufacturers, gave our advocacy efforts the boost needed to drive evidence-based policies. To highlight the significance of political will needed to propel agri-biotech uptake across the region, ABBC 2021 hosted a dedicated session for policy and decision makers. The resounding message was a call for closer engagement between policy makers, scientists and communicators, especially on amplification of the technology's benefits. For continued and balanced reporting on agri-biotech issues, we engaged the media using various strategies including science cafes, study tours, and commissioning of biotech stories, while incentivising accurate coverage through the OFAB Kenya media awards. Our efforts garnered over 50 million media impressions.

Responding to the COVID-19 Pandemic

Times have been tough. We have all had to adjust to the new-normal by finding innovative ways of engaging stakeholders and sustaining momentum in this radically altered world. At AfriCenter, we hosted 12 webinars on various topical issues, ranging from animal biotechnology, sustainable and equitable food systems, to addressing myths linking agricultural innovations to non-communicable diseases. These webinars have reached close to 2,000 participants from over 20 countries, and contributed significantly towards curbing the infodemic.

In light of the pandemic, several stakeholder engagement workshops happened virtually. Others like ABBC 2021 used a hybrid format, which entailed in-person meetings in six focus African countries, that were internationally-linked virtually. The five-day hybrid symposium reached over 1,200 delegates, including those that would have been excluded using the old format, and was able to achieve greater impact whilst maximising resources.

Like the humming bird that delivered droplets of water to put out a forest fire, we contributed towards addressing the COVID-19 infodemic by training over 80 African journalists on effective health and science reporting. The trainings enabled journalists to understand complex relationships between pandemics, agriculture, environment and health, and empowered them with skills to unravel disinformation. These efforts were crowned by initiation of an Africa Science Dialogue series, which aims to provide the populace with factual information on NCDs and COVID-19 in relation to agricultural innovations. The dialogue series, which was officially launched by Kenya's Health Minister, has established a mechanism for fact-checking, and provided a platform where journalists and experts can engage regularly. Join this growing community by registering your interest on the portal!

Repositioning for Greater Impact

There is an African proverb that says "If the rhythm of the drum beat changes, the dance step must change." The ISAAA family is responding to the changing drum beats by repositioning itself to meet new challenges in the biosciences landscape, aggravated by politicization of science and rising scepticism of emerging tools. AfriCenter, which is now a fully independent entity with its own governing board, will move its communications, policy advocacy and knowledge sharing activities beyond crop biotechnology, and extend to livestock, environment and One Health approach. Find more details about this shift in our press release.

Lastly, we wish to thank all our partners that have walked the journey with us. As we navigate this new path, we hope you will continue to support us and join with us in this exciting new endeavour!

On behalf of the AfriCenter family, I wish you and your loved ones a safe, and refreshing festive season and a prosperous 2022.

Kindest regards,
Dr. Margaret Karembu, MBS
Director, ISAAA AfriCenter/Chair, OFAB-Kenya
ABBC 2021 Report
Communique
Press Release
Africa Biotech Milestones in 2021
HOLIDAY TIMINGS

Our offices will reopen on 10th January 2022