By Dr. Paul Chege

Over the years, the need for a more coordinated African delegates group with sufficient technical guidance and support on the Meeting of the Parties (MOP) agenda items has been highlighted. This perhaps can be well grounded on the African Ministerial Conference on Science and Technology (AMCOST) Decision of 2010 to harness science and technology for Africa’s socio-economic development and to achieve a knowledge-based society through elaborate measures including Consolidated Plan of Action with the ultimate aim of enhancing science and technology infrastructure in Member States in order to attain world-class scientific research capability that responds to the African community needs. 

We must therefore laud the efforts that have gone into removing any perceived and real institutional policy and ideological differences that hindered proper coordination, impeding Africa’s proper international biosafety negotiations. Among other things, the preparatory meetings in the lead up to and during the Conference of the Parties serving as the MOP to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (COP/MOP) meetings have continued to deliver tangible outcomes that portray leadership and coordination in the Africa group’s negotiations. The pre-COP/MOP meetings have provided the so-called African Group of Negotiators with up-to-date briefs on technical and administrative matters during the conference; lead countries identified for each agenda item and lead negotiators assigned; and have ensured contentious issues have been resolved beforehand, ensuring cohesion.

The key lesson from the various pre-COP/MOP meetings already held is that a well constituted African group, comprising among others, interested and affected stakeholders such as the youth is instrumental in enhancing negotiations and preventing potential negative fallouts from positions. The young scientists, communicators, and aspiring future scientists’ active participation in the MOP need to be supported, to nurture and harness their willingness and capability to be torchbearers for science and innovation. In the true sense of the word, they are the custodians of biological diversity. Their unique participation, sometimes through showcasing their innovations would be key in demonstrating their aspiration to solve world environmental problems and their commitment to responsible innovations. There exists a big need to tap into this group for their aptness to spearhead the use of new media among the delegations for real-time tracking of negotiations, sometimes remotely by all members of the delegations during the various sessions of the MOP. 

Such young people, on the other hand, need to demonstrate their keen interest through active participation in the various preparatory workshops held in the lead up to MOP. Through this, they learn beforehand the organization of the MOP and get adequately prepared to participate and deliver statements during negotiations. They at the same time realize the opportunity that exists to challenge the current thinking through topical side events. 

As time draws close to the second phase of COP/MOP 10 and COP 15 in Montreal, Canada, several preparatory and intercessional formal and informal meetings, both physical and virtual, have been held. There have been laudable efforts by organizations such as OFAB-Kenya and ISAAA AfriCenter to enhance the youth’s effective participation in topical issues such as digital sequence information (DSI) on genetic resources, genome editing, synthetic biology, and gene drives, among others that are likely to be the key focus of the upcoming COP/MOP negotiations. 

More youth need to play their pivotal role as the custodians of biodiversity in a clear understanding of the immense potential they hold in the international biosafety negotiations. The Africa Short Course on Agro-biosciences (AfSCA) is one of the notable initiatives, which could yield more fruits if intentional investments from various partners would be made with the clear goal of enhancing the participation of the African youth in international biosafety negotiations.

Dr. Paul Chege is a Program Associate at ISAAA AfriCenter and Ag. Coordinator, PBS Kenya. He holds a Ph.D. in Crops and Horticultural Sciences, Cereals Breeding and Biotechnology and has a passion for crop improvement through speed breeding technologies. He has participated in international biosafety negotiations and has co-authored a policy brief titled ‘Enhancing Africa’s Capacity for International Biosafety Negotiations’.