Africa has been slow in embracing modern biotechnology for development of the animal resources’ sector. Reducing poverty in Africa may remain a mirage without adoption of cutting edge innovations that will increase production, productivity and efficiency across animal resource value chains.
The African Union has taken the lead in the development of animal resources on the continent by supporting and empowering its Member States and Regional Economic Communities (RECs). Through the African Union Interafrican Bureau for Animal Resources (AU-IBAR), a specialized technical Office of the Department of Agriculture Rural and Blue Economy (ARBE) of the African Union Commission (AUC), the AU is supporting and coordinating prudent utilization of livestock, fisheries and wildlife as a resource for both human wellbeing and economic development in the Member States.
AU-IBAR emphasizes the need to focus on science, technology and innovation as vital tools for transformation of the animal resources sector on the continent. It is for this reason that this office has fully aligned its operations to Agenda 2063 and the Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy for Africa (STISA-2024). Agenda 2063 is Africa’s blueprint and master plan for transforming Africa into the global powerhouse of the future. It places importance on the role of science and innovation in achieving Africa’s socio-economic transformation. STISA-2024 is a 10-year strategy adopted in 2014 by AU Heads of State and Government Summit. The strategy fosters social transformation and economic competitiveness, through human capital development, innovation, value addition, industrialization and entrepreneurship.
The late Prof. Calestous Juma, in his report ‘Freedom to innovate: Biotechnology in Africa’s Development’, articulated the important role biotechnology can play in the transformation of African economies. The report made key recommendations to the AU Member States. Key among these was building capacities in biotechnology across various sectors, and enhancing governance structures (regulations, protocols, standards, regional agreements) in biotechnology, thus creating an enabling policy environment and institutional strengthening.
The AU has heeded the call to action and is playing a coordinating role in supporting Member States to formulate evidence-based policies, regulations and standards that inform animal biotechnology and biosafety. The AU is also building national capacities to enhance the review and approval process for genetically engineered organisms as well as animal components into national biosafety regulations. Additionally, the AU is providing guidance and advice on policy, regulations and protocols on adoption and utilization of animal biotechnology, and promoting harmonization of safety assessment approaches. This will facilitate standardized application of risk assessment principles. Advocacy and awareness creation on animal biotechnology and biosafety development is also at the core in advancing informed dialogue on animal biotech development on the continent.
With the increasing human population trend in Africa and the consequential need for a food secure Africa, there is undoubtedly urgent need for more efficient food systems to be promoted across the continent. The use of various animal biotechnologies will be instrumental in achieving this objective. However, this has to be done cautiously, taking into consideration the interests and priorities of all African Member States, since no one biotech tool will suit all. Member States have the sovereign right on development or utilization of biotechnology and can do that through formation of like minded coalitions. AU-IBAR will support member states’ led efforts by promoting an environment that facilitates science-based decision making on adoption of animal biotechnologies, safely and responsibly.
Dr. Mary Mbole-Kariuki is a Technology and Innovations Expert at African Union InterAfrican Bureau of Animal Resources. You can reach her at: firstname.lastname@example.org