OFAB launches newest chapter in Ethiopia

The African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) and the Ethiopian Institute for Agricultural Research (EIAR) have launched the eighth chapter of the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology in Africa (OFAB) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The launch presided over by EIAR Director General, Dr. Fentahun Mengistu , and Dr Emmanuel Okogbenin, AATF Technical Director, brought together about 40 participants,  representing various organizations, including Ethiopian Academy of Sciences, Ethiopian Society for Advancement of Technology, International Maize and Wheat Improvement and the media, among others.

EIAR DG Dr Mengistu (right) and AATF Technical Director Dr Okogbenin and AATF Senior Communications and Partnerships Manager, Mrs Muchiri cutting the cake to mark official launch of OFAB Ethiopia Chapter

EIAR DG Dr Mengistu (right) and AATF Technical Director Dr Okogbenin and AATF Senior Communications and Partnerships Manager, Mrs Muchiri cutting the cake to mark official launch of OFAB Ethiopia Chapter

In his official remarks, the DG said Ethiopia had embarked on an ambitious agricultural transformation program whereby innovative technologies are playing significant roles. He welcomed the establishment of OFAB chapter in Ethiopia, saying that it will enable the Ethiopian society ‘to talk to each other more openly and credibly’ about the benefits of new agricultural technologies, including modern biotechnology, and address concerns and challenges as well.

Dr Mengistu thanked AATF for choosing EIAR as the host of OFAB in Ethiopia. He noted that  public awareness, understanding and positive  attitude towards the biotechnology , especially transgenic crops, are crucial to sustainable deployment of innovative biotechnology crop varieties to small-scale farmers in Ethiopia whose yields have been compromised by diseases, pests and vagaries of weather.

Technical Director, AATF, Dr. Okogbenin, said OFAB “is a good platform” for creating awareness on biotechnology and managing issues, concerns and people’s perceptions.

Ethiopia is one of the sub-Saharan countries that have realized that preventive biosafety laws are counterproductive to the aspirations of the country of using agriculture as the central pillar of its economic transformation agenda. Ethiopia is tirelessly working to become a middle income economy by 2025.

Dr Okogbenin praised the government of Ethiopia for taking the initiative to review the biosafety law to make it more evidence-based, adding that this would give breeders opportunity and freedom to innovate cutting-edge technologies to deal with intractable plant and animal diseases and pests, not to mention the vagaries of weather  that have defied conventional breeding methods.

The AATF technical director underscored the importance of having OFAB in Addis Ababa, which he described as the capital of Africa where key policy guidelines, decisions and pronouncements, including biotechnology policies that affect the entire continent are made. He gave the example of initiatives like the Panel of Experts on Biotechnology and the recent international meeting on biotechnology held in Addis Ababa by the African Academies of Sciences (AAS) and European Union Science Advisory Council (EUSAC).

He argued that Africa does not need to reinvent the wheel with regards to agricultural biotechnology “because very good examples, such as Burkina Faso, South Africa and Sudan, already exist for it to follow. The question we should be asking is how to profit from the technology as we manage any potential risks through robust biosafety governance structures.”

The Director of Biotechnology Research at EIAR and OFAB-Ethiopia Focal Person, Dr. Endale Gebre, gave a detailed presentation on the status of biotechnology in Africa and Ethiopia. He underscored the importance of adoption of modern biotechnology in to enable Ethiopia feed its growing population estimated to reach 135m people by 2025.

In his closing remarks, Dr. Adugna Wakijira, the DDG of EIAR praised the OFAB model noting that it will bring trust between various stakeholders with regards to modern biotechnology as a result of open discussions involving farmers, students, scientists, media, policy makers, regulators, legislators, industry and consumers.

OFAB was initiated by AATF in 2006 to facilitate and promote credible and regular conversations on pertinent issues affecting agricultural biotechnology research, development and deployment in sub-Saharan Africa. Other OFAB chapters include Uganda, Tanzania, Ghana, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, and Zimbabwe.

For more information contact OFAB Coordinator (d.otunge@aatf-africa.org  )

– Daniel Otunge

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