Africa

The major challenge for Kenya, Zimbabwe and Egypt is the persistent poor performance of agriculture in Africa generally, which is leading to a food crisis. The issues concerning many countries are how to improve food security, increase productivity, conserve biodiversity, reduce pest management costs and deal with increasing urban migration. Specific issues related to biotechnology are how to develop institutional capacity for risk assessment and management, to access information on developments in biotechnology elsewhere that may have application in Africa and to develop the necessary human resources and infrastructure.

Several success stories are coming out of Africa, where biotechnological approaches have contributed to the solution of specific problems, reduced the cost of pest control and created new employment opportunities in towns and villages. They include the wide adoption by farmers of rapid multiplication of disease-free banana plantlets in Kenya; use of new genetically improved pest-resistant cotton by small farmers in South Africa; and use of new vaccines against animal diseases in Kenya and Zimbabwe (Chetsanga, 2000; Ndiritu, 2000; Njobe-Mbuli, 2000).

Some of the problems and constraints identified include: lack of aware ness of the benefits and risks associated with modern biotechnology; lack of capacity in some countries to deal with assessing these benefits and risks and in regulating the use of modern biotechnology; high investment costs associated with biotechnological innovations; and increasing concerns being expressed in the media about the potential negative impacts of biotechnology and the need for public awareness of the issues.

In sub-Saharan Africa the need is both to improve awareness and institutional capacity to develop biotechnology-based products and, perhaps as importantly, for African stakeholders, scientists and policy-makers to articulate an African agenda and to participate in critical global debates on trade and economic growth (Njobe-Mbuli, 2000).

One of the major targets for biotechnology in Egypt is the production of transgenic plants conferring resistance to the biotic and abiotic stresses that are causing serious yield losses in many economically important crops in the country. The Agricultural Genetic Engineering Research Institute (AGERI) was established in 1990 with the aim of mobilizing the most recent technologies available worldwide to address problems facing agricultural development (Madkour, 2000).

The challenges identified were the need to increase agricultural productivity, while preserving the fragile natural resource base in the region and the need to conserve the rich indigenous plant and animal species. The opportunities include: using modern biotechnology to develop crop varieties tolerant to biotic and abiotic stresses, especially drought and salt tolerance; improving the nutritional quality of agricultural commodities; producing biofertilizers and biopesticides; and improving the availability of soil nutrients.

The main constraints are inadequate financial resources, lack of qualified personnel, poor infrastructure and insufficient regional and international collaboration. There is also a lack of clear strategies, policies and regulatory frameworks to guide the use of modern biotechnology in most countries of the region.

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