Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Coordination and Biotech Research

Author: James Wachai

One of the reasons why Africa and other poor regions of the world trail in crop biotechnology is lack of collaboration and coordination among scientists. There are millions of well-trained crop biotechnologists in poor countries. But due to resource constraints and other challenges, hardly do they work together. So, we have a situation where so many scientists, working in different parts of the continent, are engaged in identical biotech projects. It's like a case of one hand not knowing what the other is doing.

At a time when Africa desperately needs crop biotechnology to alleviate hunger and malnutrition, its scientists should be moving towards collaborative research. Scientists who pull in different directions can't make any meaningful impact in the scientific world. Cooperation, not competition, is the bane of science. With regard to crop biotechnology, collaboration is urgently needed if Africa dreams of solving its endemic food problems.

Currently, Africa is playing host to top-notch research in crop biotechnology. Dr. Florence Wambugu of Africa Harvest Biotech Foundation International is busy developing a new strain of wheat resistant to drought and common fungal diseases. Dr. Wambugu is an authority in genetic engineering and has been leading the campaign to persuade Africa to embrace genetically modified crops. Dr. Monty Jones of the Africa Rice Centre (WARDA), in a groundbreaking research, has developed New Rice for Africa (Nerica), resistant to drought and pests, which is bound to enhance food security in many West African countries. Dr. Jones' expertise in genetic engineering can be a big asset to Africa is shared.

Organizations like International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT), Insect Resistant Maize for Africa (IRMA) and International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), too, are engaged in high-tech crop biotechnology research. Their work deserve praise, but they stand to achieve more if there is more sharing.

Perhaps, a recently mooted idea by South African scientists is worth considering.They have formed an umbrella organization, which seeks to consolidate the gains already made in modern biotechnology. Called the African Centre for Gene Technology (ACGT), the body will act as a centre of excellence for all African scientists involved in biotech research. In Kenya, the African Biotechnology Stakeholders Forum is promoting partnerships and education. African scientists should embrace these projects and see them as opportunities for self-growth. Investors in North America, Europe and elsewhere should be investing and partnering with these organizations and scientists. After all, they have a common goal - to alleviate hunger and malnutrition.

About the author: James Wachai is a communication specialist who uses his expertise to increase public understanding of science and technology, specifically biotechnology. Read more from James at http://www.gmoafrica.org.

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