OFAB Media Awards unveils Africa’s best journalists in biotechnology

By Suleiman Okoth

September 13, 2018

Tanzanian broadcast journalist, Calvin Gwabara, working with Sokoine University of Agriculture Media, emerged the winner under television category and the overall winner of the 2018 Open Forum on Agricultural biotechnology in Africa (OFAB) Africa Media Awards.

2018 OFAB Journalist of the Year Calvin Gwabara with OFAB Tanzania country coordinator (left)

The Awards, organized in collaboration with OFAB and National Agricultural Research Institute of Burkina Faso (INERA), were held at Silmande Hotel in Ouagadougou, Bukina Faso.

OFAB Media Awards is aimed at recognizing exemplary journalism that promote best practices in science reporting with emphasis on agriculture biotechnology through responsible, professional, ethical and effective reporting.

The OFAB Africa Media Awards is an annual award sponsored by African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) through its Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology in Africa (OFAB) project.

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Victory for Nigerian farmers as court rules in favour of NBMA

By OFAB Nigeria

August 15, 2018

Abuja, Nigeria: The Federal High Court of Justice of Nigeria in Abuja today ruled in favor of the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) by giving approval for the commercial release of Bt. Cotton in Nigeria.

March for Science in Nigeria in support of Agricultural Biotechnology

The suit which was filed by the Registered Trustees of Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) and sixteen other Civil Society Organisations in the Federal High Court of Justice of Nigeria in the Abuja Judicial Division, September 13, 2017, suit No FHC/ABJ/C5/846/2017 had the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA),   Federal Ministry of Environment, Federal Ministry of Justice, Monsanto Agricultural Nigeria Limited,  Federal Ministry of Agriculture and the National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC)  as  co-defendants.

The court dismissed the action filed by HOMEF on the ground that the action is statute barred and the court lacks the jurisdiction to entertain it.

Justice A. R. Mohammed during the ruling stated that there is no base for the argument on the provisions of the National Biosafety Law and the permit issued during the weekend and public holiday by NBMA for the environmental release of Bt. Cotton. The court ruled that the matter was not a fundamental rights issue as claimed by the plaintiff.

The Justice also noted that the anti-GM groups can appeal the decision but advised against it as it was struck out on technical grounds. He went ahead to explain that the operational relationship between  NBMA and NABDA  did not breach any civil society laws or the laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Two weeks before the court ruling, the National Varietal Release Committee, registered and released 2 varieties of  Bollgard II Bt. Cotton for commercialization in Nigeria. This ruling now means that Nigeria is now ready for the adoption of Bt crops and its access to Nigerian farmers enhanced.

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Bt Cotton critical to achieving Kenya’s big four agenda

By Suleiman Okoth

April 06, 2018

 

Mr Rajeev Arora, adviser on textile value chain at the Ministry of Industry and Trade and chairman of Kenya cotton task force formed in 2017.

The Kenyan government is banking on the production of genetically modified cotton, expected to start in 2018, to generate more than Sh 50 billion in apparel export earnings and create more than 50,000 jobs as part of its economic revival plan.

As part of the country’s big four agenda, Kenya aims to increase the manufacturing sector’s share of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to 15 per cent by 2022, enhance food security, provide universal healthcare to all citizens and provide affordable and decent housing — by  constructing at least 500,000 affordable new houses by 2022.

Mr Rajeev Arora, an adviser on textile value chain at the Ministry of Industry and Trade and chairman of cotton task force, noted that Bt cotton will play an important role in the revival of the cotton industry in Kenya and complement Kenya’s big four agenda.

The revival of the cotton sector is expected to move GDP from 9% to 15% and contribute to government priorities.

Speaking during the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB) luncheon on April 6 at Laico Hotel, Nairobi Mr Rajeev noted that the cotton task force was formed last year to ensure the implementation of a roadmap for the next five years.

“We have a plan to initially develop cotton using hybrids and conventional seeds and, by 2019, to grow Bt cotton after its commercialization, which will have three times production yield compared to present conventional varieties,” Mr Rajeev said.

Dr Roy Mugiira, director of technical services at National Council of Science and Technology (NACOSTI) added that adoption of Bt cotton will lead to increased production,  returns and improved livelihoods for Kenyan farmers.

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AATF Mark International Women’s Day

By Josephine Mailu

March 08, 2018

AATF staff in a group photo joined the global community in celebrating the International Women’s Day on March 08, 2018

 

The African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) marked the International Women’s Day to celebrate women and challenge stereotypes in the society.

To commemorate the day, marked globally on 8 March, AATF had speeches from staff led by women professionals at the Foundation’s head offices in Nairobi, Kenya.

The day is marked to celebrate women’s achievements, raise awareness, highlight gender parity and change perceptions and stereotypes.

As we join the global community in celebrating International Women’s Day themed ‘pressing for progress’ the day brings out the important moment on our commitment to women’s equality.

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Prof Ida Sithole-Niang, Former AATF Board Chair, Elected World Academy of Sciences Fellow

By Dr Denis Kyetere

Executive Director, African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF)

February 2, 2018

Prof Idah Sithole-Niang (Centre), former AATF Board Chair and professor at the Department of Biochemistry, University of Zimbabwe, Harare

Congratulations to Prof Ida Sithole-Niang on her election as a Fellow at the World Academy of Sciences. At AATF we are proud of your leadership as Board Chair between January 2010 to April 2016. Your guidance on strategy direction and the special expertise on the Pod Borer Resistant (PBR) cowpea is priceless and gave AATF the drive to provide farmers not only in Nigeria but other countries who grow cowpea a solution to the pod borer menace that holds small holder farmers across the continent hostage.

Prof Idah Sithole-Niang, is a professor at the Department of Biochemistry, University of Zimbabwe, Harare, where she has been teaching molecular biology. She was instrumental in co-coordinating  a global network for the Genetic Improvement of Cowpea for Africa which brought development partner-attention to the crop culminating in the development of insect-resistant cowpea for Africa. She is a member of the Zimbabwe Academy of Sciences and received Outstanding Graduate Woman of the Year at Michigan State University 1988, the First William Brown Fellowship in 1990, the Rockefeller Biotechnology Career Fellowship in 1992, fellow of the Salzburg Seminars, among others.

Idah has a passion for seeking solutions to challenges within the agricultural sphere through science focusing on the plight of farmers not only on cowpea but other crops including sorghum.

For that we thank you Ida and look forward to more accolades for great strides in science and being an inspiration to many women within the science field. Your achievements have inspired passion among the scientific community for life changing research onto problems that are facing the African continent especially the small holder farmer.

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Proposed changes to Ugandan Biosafety Act a threat to scientists

By Isaac Ongu

January 30, 2018

Ugandan farmers could lose opportunities for improved harvests under proposed biosafety bill revisions. Photo by Isaac Ongu

Ugandan plant scientists face severe financial penalties and decade-long jail terms if proposed changes to the recently passed Biosafety Act 2017 are adopted, experts say.

The draft changes also would undermine several important crop breeding programs intended to reduce pesticide use and boost food security in the East African country.

The Ugandan scientific establishment and its international partners are extremely concerned about the proposed changes to the legislation, which were drafted after Uganda’s President questioned the more moderate, science-based act that Parliament passed in October 2017.

A draft of the new bill states that any “person who carries out genetic engineering shall prevent any contamination or commingling of the genetically engineered organism with any non-genetically engineered organisms” indefinitely.

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Burkina Faso making progress with GMO research

By Joseph Opoku Gakpo

January 19, 2018

Burkinafaso cotton farmer Bonne Tumai wants Bt cotton back. Photo by Joseph Opoku Gakpo

Agriculturalists in Burkina Faso say their country is still open to using the tools of biotechnology, despite the decision to stop growing genetically modified cotton.

A controversy erupted over the low quality of fiber produced by GMO (Bt) cotton, prompting a withdrawal of the seeds in 2015 after they had been in use for eight years. Some 70 percent of the nation’s farmers were successfully growing Bt cotton, so the decision to halt cultivation caused an uproar. Though farmers say they are now suffering significant crop loss, despite using more pesticides, the cotton traders who control production continue to insist that farmers plant non-GMO varieties only.

But work is still ongoing to develop other GMO products in Burkina Faso, including Bt cowpea and genetically engineered sterile mosquitoes. Destruction of cowpea fields by the pod bearer pest is a major issue in Africa. More than 40 percent of all cowpea produced in the sub region is damaged by pests. The Bt cowpea, which infers natural resistance without the application of pesticides, is expected to help reduce the level of destruction drastically.

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Freedom to innovate, Calestous dream lives on…

By Evelyn Situma

December 31, 2017

Prof Calestous Juma

The news about the passing on of Prof. Calestous Juma came as a surprise to many. Most especially the proponents of agricultural biotechnology, most of whom, he had helped voice their enthusiasm towards adoption of genetically modified technology. Among them, were senior scientists at African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), notably Dr Mpoko Bokanga former Executive Director, now a consultant with African Development Bank, and Dr Francis Nang’ayo, AATF’s Head of Regulatory Affairs.

Prof Juma and Dr Bokanga were part of the African High-Level Panel on Biotechnology commissioned by the African Union in 2006 to chart the Africa’s course on modern biotechnology. The panel held several public hearings, before compiling a landmark report, which was published in a book, Freedom to Innovate.

It was during these public hearing that Dr Nang’ayo, initially interacted with the late professor. Though he had grown up knowing about him, having attended the same school the late professor went to- Port Victoria Secondary School, later renamed, John Osogo Secondary School, in Busia County.

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Reversing the Tide of Progress: The Burkina Faso Story

By Joseph Opoku Gakpo

Dec 15, 2017

Burkina Faso cotton farmer Seidu Konatey. Photo by Joseph Opoku Gakpo

With three wives, 10 children and dozens of grandchildren to take care of, 63-year-old Seidu Konatey is a man who knows no rest. He spends at least 10 hours every day working in his 38 acres of cotton fields at Diguima and Palsama in the Pandema District of Burkina Faso.

With 2018 marking the 35th continuous year that he has been in this business, there is nothing about cotton farming he hasn’t seen before. Cotton production is a lot of work as it takes about 24 weeks from planting to maturity. But nothing troubles Seidu more than the bollworm pests that attack and destroy cotton. The larvae of the bollworm have the capacity to cause up to 90 percent yield loss on cotton fields. The pest feeds voraciously on the leaves of the plant, the plant itself and the pod that produces fiber. In West Africa, 25 to 35 percent of all cotton is lost to these pests.

Spraying pesticides has long been the main means of dealing with them. Half of all pesticides imported into Africa are used on cotton, a situation that poses an extraordinary threat to the health of humans and the environment.

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TEGO® maize farmer: I now have extra bags to sell

By Boniface Okute

November 16, 2017

Boaz Nyateng (left), a farmer and chairman of Lambwe Seed Growers Association in Homabay, Western Kenya – with one of the WEMA project’s enumerator at his farm. PHOTO/AATF

Boaz Nyateng, is one of the few farmers from Lambwe Seed Growers Association (LASGA) that survived the effects of drought-stress in 2016. This is because he planted DroughtTEGO® maize hybrid.

“Last season there was drought but I still managed to harvest 9 bags of 90 kg each (0.81 tons) from my 1 acre farm (0.405 ha; i.e. grain yield of 2 ton/ha). Those who planted other maize seed varieties harvested as little as 1.5 bags (0.14 tons; i.e. grain yield of 0.33 ton/ha) from 1 acre” said Boaz.

Boaz has been growing TEGO®, a hybrid maize from Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) Project since 2014 and has become an advocate to members of his group because of its performance and yield.

“I have been growing this variety from 2014 and even encouraged members of my group to do the same, my family now has food and I now have extra bags to sell.” Boaz learnt about TEGO® in 2014 from a field demonstration plot hosted by one of the farmers his group. The performance of that demo changed his perception and they are now growing the variety for consumption and sale.

“The field officers have also trained us on the good farming practices including how to space the seed, fertilizer application, farm management and post-harvest handling of grain. They have also linked us to Ultravetis – a seed company which supply our input store with the certified seeds enabling farmers to access the seeds easily” added Boaz.

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