FAO Regional Office for Africa

AU and FAO speak loud and clear: biotechnologies can be decisive in bridging the food deficit gap in Africa

L.to r. Ren Wang, Eyasu Abraha, Sacko Josefa Leonel Correa and Mahen Kumar Seeruttun at the plenary (Photo: @FAO)

 24 November, 2017, Addis-Ababa – The African Union Commission and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), urged African governments to proactively employ science, technologies and innovations – especially biotechnologies – to address food insecurity and malnutrition challenges facing the continent.

A wide range of stakeholders in food security and nutrition, including government representatives and non-state actors, underlined the fact that, despite some progress, African governments need to exert more effort to put viable legislation and investments in place to promote agricultural biotechnologies as parts of the toolbox for achieving sustainable food systems and nutrition. 

These recommendations were made during a regional meeting on agricultural biotechnologies for sub-Saharan Africa, which took place from 22 to 24 November 2017 at the AU Conference Centre, in Addis Ababa. In her welcoming address, AUC Commissioner for Department of Rural Economy and Agriculture, Sacko Josefa Leonel Correa, noted that at this time when population growth and climate change worsen the prospects for combatting food insecurity and malnutrition, the application of science, technology and innovation in the agricultural sector is no longer an option but an imperative for Africa.

“African governments should create a favourable policy environment and invest more resources in order for the region to benefit from the safe applications of proven biotechnologies so as to lift vulnerable communities out of extreme food insecurity,” she declared.

FAO Assistant Director-General for the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Protection, Ren Wang, remarked, “It is imperative for Africa to make biotechnologies, knowledge and innovation available, accessible and applicable to small farmers to help them maximize their agricultural productivity while keeping the environment healthy and sustainable. FAO, AUC and partners must find the means to remove the barriers that prevent their accessibility and uptake by family farmers”.

Eyasu Abraha, the Ethiopian Minister of Agriculture and Natural Resources, noted that 80% of Ethiopians depend on subsistence agriculture to provide food for their families and for incomes. An agriculture-led strategy for economic growth is one of the best ways to provide food for this huge population. “Ethiopia is building a capacity to extensively use biotechnologies to enhance the productions of crops and animals to support the country’s efforts towards food self-sufficiency”, he said.

According to Mahen Kumar Seeruttun, Ministry of Agro Industry and Food Security of Mauritius, who was a panellist in the meeting, not only are the direct effects powerful due to the huge number of Africans employed in agriculture, but the indirect effects of improved agricultural output and efficiency can also have a multiplier effect on the economy. “Increased productivities can lower food prices, thereby allowing Africans to divert spending onto other products”, he underlined.  

This regional meeting, which brought together over 200 participants from all over Africa and partner organizations, builds upon FAO’s international symposium, “The Role of Agricultural Biotechnologies in Sustainable Food Systems and Nutrition, which took place from 15 to 17 February 2016 in FAO Headquarters, Rome.

The aim of both gatherings was to explore the application of biotechnologies for the benefit of smallholders in developing sustainable food systems and improving nutrition in the context of climate change. Just like the Rome symposium, this meeting looked at the application of biotechnologies in family farmers production systems, across the crop, livestock, forestry and fishery sectors and covered a wide range of biotechnologies, from low- to high-tech.