Nigeria’s Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, has expressed concern over the low content of science and technology in agricultural practice in Africa, saying this remains responsible for its low productivity, yield and inability to compete globally.
In his speech at a national stakeholders’ sensitisation and awareness workshop on animal biotechnology application and regulatory perspectives convened by the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) in Abuja, he said science and technology make up more than 90 per cent component of modern agriculture.
The minister pointed out that the development had adversely affected African economies with negative implications for the peoples’ livelihood, adding that while rural people strive to feed themselves, urban residents spend most of their earnings on food, leaving very little for their basic needs such as health, education and shelter.
“Africa’s economy is heavily dependent on agriculture, where its people grow crops and also keep livestock. It is estimated that agriculture accounts for about 35 per cent of the continent’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), 40 per cent of its exports and 70 per cent of its employment. With the exception of a few countries, the sector is characterised by the lowest productivity in the world. This is due mainly to inappropriate application of science, technology and innovation.
“This results in low yield and inappropriate utilisation of resources. When we apply science, technology and innovation to agriculture, many of the problems and challenges we are confronted with at present will be solved as it is the case in some parts of the world,” he said.
In his address, the Director General of NABDA, Prof. Abduallahi Mustapha, said the workshop was majorly informed by four related factors; rapid development in modern biotechnology – molecular biology in particular and opportunities offered by the new science to address some of the pressing needs for Africa, in particular Nigeria; relatively little action in Africa to take advantage of these developments; disproportionately little attention, compared to the crop world, given to policy issues in biotech that specifically relate to animal agriculture; and weak human capacity and institutions to facilitate biotech applications and to support development of requisite policies to analyse, utilise and facilitate delivery of appropriate technologies.
“This workshop is designed as a platform for sober discussions that will not only improve our understanding of the opportunities but also identify the challenges that our nations will have to tackle if the opportunities are to be translated into wealth for, and health of, our people. We hope that the discussions will not be just for the benefit of technical people but that they will help sensitise African governments on the issues and actions needed at national or regional levels.
“These actions must of necessity include the provision of resources to conduct needed responsible and relevant research and the utilisation of results of such research in poverty eradication and wealth creation programme,” he added.
Speaking on the workshop, the Country Coordinator of the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB), Dr. Rose Gidado, said it was a follow up on the series of animal biotech virtual conference sessions organised by Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in the United States and the USDA, Washington, held in 2020.
She said the aim of the conference sessions included initiating interaction among animal biotech regulators and other stakeholders in Africa to ensure they are keeping up with global trends; taking stock of biotech tools being applied in animal resources research and exploring how to link Africa’s early career and young professionals with potential collaborators and investors and strengthening the Africa coalition on communicating about the use of innovative technologies, particularly genome editing.