Biotechnology can be an essential tool for Africa’s economic transformation, says Ronald Ochoo, a Correspondent from Kampala, Uganda. He gives a bird’s eye view into the ideas exchanged at a public lecture organised by the Association for Strengthening Agriculture Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA).
“Biotechnology has the potential to do for the agriculture sector what mobile technology has done for the communications sector, but to realize this potential African countries need to adopt flexible and supportive biotechnology regulations, celebrated academic and internationally- recognised authority on the role of innovation in economic development…”
These were the words of Professor Calestous Juma while speaking at a public lecture organised by the Association for Strengthening Agriculture Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA) at the Golf Course Hotel in Kampala, Uganda.
He told the nearly 400- strong audience at the lecture that most of the technologies needed for Africa to propel itself forward are already available and can be obtained through research and international partnerships.
Additionally, Juma noted that for Africa to sustain its exploding population, it must adopt strategies to put science, technology and innovation at the centre of economic transformation.
Juma, a Professor of the Practice of International Development and Director of the Science, Technology and Globalization programme the Harvard Kennedy School, explained how advances in information and communications technologies, especially mobile phones, illustrate the benefits of emerging technologies for economic transformation.
“If Africa had restrictive mobile technology regulations imposed at the outset, it would not have benefited from the technology and even pioneered in fields such as mobile money transfer,” he remarked.
ASARECA Executive Director, Dr. Fina Opio in a speech read by Dr. Charles Mugoya, the Manager of the Association’s Agro-biodiversity and Biotechnology programme, said ASARECA invests in the generation of science, technologies and innovations to address current and future challenges such as pests, diseases and drought She said ASARECA mobilizes money,employs skilled people, and sources knowledge to generate new technologies. It also ensures that those that are already generated reach the farmers.
Under the theme ‘Rebooting African Economies: Science and Engineering for Rapid Economic Transforming’, the lecture attempted to identify approaches for leveraging the world’s fund of scientific, technological and engineering knowledge for rapid economic transformation.
It argued that agriculture and allied industries offer a timely entry point for building a broad base for local, national and regional economic transformation, and stressed the importance of exponential growth in generic innovation platforms such as information and communications technology, biotechnology, nanotechnology and new material (especially biopolymers).
It also outlined strategic measures needed to harness these technologies. These include investing in infrastructure, reforming higher technical education, stimulating entrepreneurship and fostering regional integration.The lecture concluded with suggestions on how to strengthen innovation governance (especially high-level advice), improve international science and technology cooperation, and foster a new culture of innovation among the youth.
Participant after participant appealed to the anti-biotechnology activists to let Africa’s own scientists introduce new biotechnologies to boost agricultural production.
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