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Since its inception, ISAAA AfriCenter has worked relentlessly towards delivering benefits of modern biotechnology tools to smallholder African farmers. Our efforts have contributed towards increased adoption of biotech crops in the region, from three in 2018, to eight in 2022. Additionally, a decade-long ban on importation of genetically modified (GM) crops in Kenya was finally lifted, highlighting the significance of intentional, consistent and concerted efforts towards overcoming policy hurdles.

AfriCenter has long championed for an enabling environment for biotechnology development in Africa. We work towards ensuring that policy and decision makers are alive to local and global progress on agri-biotech and biosafety through various platforms, including policy roundtables, national dialogues and through our pioneer seeing-is-believing biotech study tours. Our efforts, in collaboration with the private sector, resulted in a favorable policy shift in Kenya, in a bid to address the country's feed shortage that was declared a national emergency in 2021. However, recent parliamentary debates have laid bare misinformation among legislators, highlighting the need to intensify outreach among policy circles. In a bid to promote national and regional One Health (OH) collaboration and governance, ISAAA AfriCenter mapped out OH influencers in four African countries, identified their linkages and levels of influence towards operationalizing OH goals. These efforts will contribute towards effective implementation of the One Health approach.

In our core knowledge-sharing program, the Center unceasingly served information needs of different stakeholders with credible scientific information on global trends and socio-economic impacts of agri-biotech. We developed and updated several easier to understand knowledge products, such as a second edition of our popular Genome Editing in Africa's Agriculture booklet. These were disseminated through various channels, including our website that has approximately 5000 views per month. Our monthly e-newsletter, the DrumBeat, continued to highlight bioscience expertise in the region, as well as popularize the OH approach, to over 6000 active subscribers. Over 20 short videos were also developed and disseminated through social media as well as screened in various stakeholder workshops, reaching over 100,000 viewers.

To facilitate dialogue and foster public participation, the Center, together with key partners, held various impactful awareness creation and outreach activities. We supported establishment of four Bt cotton demonstration plots in eastern and western Kenya which were used for peer-to-peer experiential learning, exposing the technology to approximately 2000 farmers. These study visits are expected to improve farmers' agronomic practices, leading to successful and sustained commercial planting of Bt cotton in Kenya. The Center also facilitated a gender-responsive farmers' participatory varietal selection (FPVS) event for GM cassava, as well as several seeing-is-believing study tours to the GM cassava field trial site, for various stakeholder categories. These engagements have created demand for GM cassava, while data from FPVS will guide selection of varieties to advance to National Performance Trials.

In our continued quest to build the capacity of those who play a role in shaping public opinion on agricultural innovations, we held four science communication training workshops, targeting over 300 experts, representing close to 30 African countries. A key output was during the Annual Meeting of African Science Academies (AMASA), where close to 100 scientists from 25 National Science Academies had gathered to discuss issues on sustainable agriculture and food systems in Africa. Following our session that challenged them to engage the public on the protracted GMO debate, experts felt the need to hold a press briefing and set the record straight. The AfriCenter also engaged close to 60 One Health experts from academia and relevant key-line ministries by strengthening the soft-skills needed to effectively work together across sectors in order to effectively operationalise the One Health approach.

At ISAAA AfriCenter, media engagement forms part of our core-mandate. We conducted more than 20 media events reaching over 200 journalists, via 5 media science cafes on various topical issues, several study tours to Bt cotton farmer demonstration plots, GM cassava field trials and feed millers. We continued to celebrate our journalists’ efforts and excellence through the annual OFAB media awards. From our efforts, the year 2022 recorded the highest number of accurate media stories (200+) on GMOs, garnering more than 100 million media impressions. A critical mass of journalists and editors armed with factual knowledge on agri-biotech and biosafety has been built thanks to our media engagement program.

Over the years, ISAAA AfriCenter has successfully provided several multi-stakeholder engagement platforms showcasing the Center's exceptional convening power. This unique strength enabled us to host a successful side-event during the 2022 World Food Prize symposium, co-hosted by African Development Bank, Iowa State University, USAID, Bayer Crop Science, URUS, AATF, Africa Union, and CSIR. Our team also hosted a mini side-event during COP15, a United Nations biodiversity conference, bringing together African regulators to share their experience with domestication of the Cartagena Protocol on biosafety. We believe that sticks in a bundle are unbreakable. Consequently, ISAAA together with like-minded partners initiated the Biodiversity Innovation Coalition during this international conference. The coalition will work together to promote integrative innovation for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. As we gear up for the next global biosafety negotiations, we call on all partners and well-wishers to join us in supporting our efforts towards building the capacity of Africa's future negotiators.

Our convening ability also enabled us to bring together regulators and animal biotechnology practitioners from 12 countries, in collaboration with Acceligen and Agriculture & Food Systems Institute. The platform presented a unique opportunity for peer-to-peer learning that will assist in the development of necessary technical and regulatory frameworks to allow for commercialization and trade in the products of animal biotechnology.

The Africa Biennial Biosciences Communication (ABBC) symposium has established itself as an authoritative African-based and African-led multi-stakeholder engagement platform. ABBC plays a fundamental role in addressing pressing communication issues needed to propel bioscience innovations in Africa. The African Coalition for Communicating about Genome Editing, whose idea was birthed in ABBC2019, and officially launched during ABBC2021, has already created three chapters in Ethiopia, Kenya and Nigeria. The Ethiopia and Kenya chapters put together a winning proposal that has paved way for the recently launched Striga Smart Sorghum for Africa project. ABBC2023, scheduled for August 22 - 24, will once again bring together stakeholders in the agri-food sector to decipher evolution of genetic improvement and best bet communication practices. ABBC2023 EARLY REGISTRATION is on-going so don't be left out! I invite like-minded partners to join us in building on ABBC 2023's proposed focus in order to make the fifth edition a resounding success.

I remain inspired by Africa's spirit of Ubuntu - the belief in a universal bond that connects all humanity - and call on all our friends and partners to continue working stronger together. The progress this far has been made possible by many valued partners whose trust, dedication and commitment continues to motivate us. We look forward to continued support and collaboration in the years ahead. The successes of ISAAA AfriCenter are rooted in the great leadership modeled by our Governing Board - we are because you are - we thank you!

As the curtain falls on 2022, I take this opportunity, on behalf of the AfriCenter family, to wish you and your loved ones a refreshing festive season and a prosperous 2023.

Kindest regards,
Dr. Margaret Karembu, MBS
Director, ISAAA AfriCenter / Chair, Africa Science Dialogue

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