Agricultural Scientists tackle communication challenges in East Africa

It is close to two decades that numerous organisations and institutions have been involved in generating knowledge to enable consumers of such information make informed choices on agricultural issues.

However, scientists and other stakeholders acknowledge that agricultural biotechnology and biosafety communication is complex and varies from country to country and region to region.

Consequently, the challenges faced by someone communicating information about agricultural science in the US might be different from the person in Kenya or Uganda or any other African country as well as Asia and Europe.
This, therefore, calls for persons communicating this technology to employ approaches suitable to their scenario.

In addressing queries such as what messages to be given to different stakeholders including farmers regarding biotechnology, commonalities and areas of cooperation among others, the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) in collaboration with the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) based in Nairobi and other organizations engaged in supporting plant breeding using biotechnology, organized the Agri- biotechnology and Biosafety meeting in Nairobi recently bringing various Biotech communications stakeholders globally to take stock of the subject matter.

The key note speaker Professor Paul Teng who is the Board Chair person of ISAAA delivering a presentation on the theme: “Appropriate Agri- biotech Communications to meet evolving Agri -food landscape explained that with the changes in climate, there is going to be a decline in food production to feed the growing population in the world and therefore the need for scientists to produce food using appropriate innovative technologies.

Prof. Teng contends if food production using conventional methods is going to decline as a result of changing climatic conditions, then other challenges such as changes in the food supply chain, demand for food nutrient products, estimated water quantity for food production, stress factors such as drought and flooding among others will be on the increase.

The solutions to address the challenges should therefore be focused on the farmer who is engaged in the farming activities and such solutions could be what kind of light is required in a greenhouse and what kind of entrepreneurship skills can be utilized by farmers.

He explained that with climate change effects that is going to impact on some crops grown by farmers in the world by the year 2050, the yield of rice will be estimated at 14%-26%, wheat will be 32% – 44%, Maize will indicate 2%-5% while soy bean will be 9% -5% which he says will be at a declining rate.

Amidst all these threats, science in the modern era is aancing so fast with scientists breaking through the science of genetics, molecular biology, plant physiology, biochemistry, and nanotechnology and soil biology.

Scientists are already using gene banks for enormous technological approaches and remote sensing as well as aanced data use for modelling and scaling up of agricultural products.

Dr Willson Songe, the principal secretary ministry of Industrialization and Enterprise in Kenya explained by citing what is going on in South Africa as far as commercialization of Biotech crops are concerned.

He cited how farmers in South Africa have benefited by growing BT cotton and BT Maize and comparing them to their counterparts in East Africa who are still growing for substance and wondered how they would compete in world markets.

He noted that when scientists are breeding different varieties of crops using Biotechnology, they must be mindful in addressing issues related to agro processing and marketing of the products for farmer benefits.

“We usually travel to South Africa for different activities and we are able to consume BT maize there but when we come back to Kenya, we say we do not want to touch it” he said.

To him the ban in GMO food by Kenya government is not justifiable because it is affecting research work already done by scientists in addressing issues of food security.

Development partners from China and India are ready to work with farmers in case BT cotton that has been tested by scientists in the research Institute is released but urged the scientists to stop being too academic when conducting their research in the Laboratories.

The director of ISAAA Africa Centre, Dr Margret Karembu explained that scientific communication on any product being developed has to be beyond the product. It encompasses the process when the product is being developed, its benefits, issues of biosafety, is it equivalent to the true product one is trying to develop using modern tools and availability of its markets.

It is important to let the farmer know if the product can be easily marketed or not and whether it can be exported.

Dr Barbra Zawedde, the in charge of Uganda Biotechnology Information Center at Naro explained that when scientists are communicating issues related to tools used for developing agricultural produce, one thing to note is which scientist qualifies in communicating a specific area of science.

When communicating to a farmer, a legislator, a media practitioner and any other stakeholder, the language used must be appropriate to the required audience.

The battle for the Biotechnology technology in Kenya is now the lifting of the ban on the use of modern biotechnology especially importation of GM food into the country while other countries such as Uganda are battling with passing of the law to regulate the technology.
alominda@ug.nationmedia.com

SOURCE: Daily Monitor

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