The fight against misinformation on agricultural bio-innovations in Africa has received a major boost following the launch of the Africa Science Dialogue hub, an inclusive and interactive platform that will serve as a one-stop source of verifiable and credible information about trends in advanced innovations on agriculture, health, and the environment. The launch formed one of the key outcomes from the 5th edition of the Africa Biennial Biosciences Communication (ABBC) symposium held in Nairobi, Kenya, August 22-24, 2023
Dubbed ABBC2023, and held under the theme ‘Evolution of Genetic Improvement Tools in Agriculture: Is Communication Matching Up?’, the symposium identified misinformation as a key impediment in advancement and utilization of new breeding tools (NBTs) to transform the continent in line with the African Union Agenda 2063.
Delegates at the symposium called on state and non-state actors to leverage on the Africa Science Dialogue to do fact-checking and address the challenge of misinformation on NBTs. “I challenge all stakeholders to actively engage through this hub,” said Hon. Dr. John Mutunga, the Chair of Kenya’s National Assembly Committee on Agriculture and Livestock. “Let us be careful not to make it another platform for scientific discourse; let us ensure it becomes a facilitative platform for acceptance of agricultural bio-innovations,” he added.
“The Africa Science Dialogue provides a portal for journalists to access real images on agri-innovations thus helping reduce use of scary imageries and frame an accurate narrative of NBTs,” ISAAA AfriCenter Director and ABBC co-convener Dr. Margaret Karembu explained.
Besides putting in place measures to address misinformation, delegates at ABBC 2023 proposed a raft of resolutions on best-bet communication practices that will ensure proper utilization of genetic improvement tools in improving our food systems and healthy wellbeing in the face of climate change.
One key resolution was the adoption of a systems-thinking collaborative approach in communicating about NBTs across crops and animals, and its benefits in enhancing sustainable food systems and messages inculcating a One Health culture that ensure interconnectedness, breaking of silos and value-based approach to stakeholders’ engagement.
There was a call for pro-active transparency in communicating about NBTs in order to build public trust and increase buy-in. “It is essential to create mechanism that proactively makes information about use of advanced agri-technologies available to interested publics. There is nothing to hide,” advised Dr. Kevin Pixley, Program Director at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT).
Further, the symposium resolved to establish a community of champions and science diplomats to advocate for favourable policies for development, uptake and utilization of NBTs. The champions will comprise members of the Network of African Science Academies and select policy makers from across the globe. “Having champions within policy cycles is a sure way of creating more understanding about modern biotechnology among policy makers for enabling policies,” remarked Hon. Francoise Uwumukiza, the Chairperson, Committee on Agriculture, Tourism and Natural Resources, East African Legislative Assembly (EALA).
The symposium was attended by 180 delegates from 23 countries and officially opened by Kenya’s Agriculture Minister Hon. Mithika Linturi. The delegates comprised scientists, biosafety regulators, policy makers, science communicators and media editors, industry players, young researchers, lawyers and farmer representatives.