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The Africa Agriculture Technology Foundation (AATF) has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with COMESA to support regional States in modern farming methods including the adoption of biotechnology.

The pact signed by Secretary-General Sindiso Ngwenya and the Executive Director for AATF Dr. Denis Kyetere in Lusaka, Zambia, 23 May 2016 will focus on seed, Sanitary and Phytosanitary Standards (SPS) and biotechnology.

According to the Secretary General these are the mature COMESA program areas with many regional achievements and experiences, both at policy harmonization and implementation outcomes.

“Our Member States should embrace new technological advancements in the agriculture sector to improve on the productivity, as this is the only way the region shall become a food basket for the continent and beyond,” Mr Ngwenya said.

In the COMESA region, only Sudan has adopted biotechnology with insect resistant cotton under cultivation in over 100,000 hectares. However trials are in advanced stages in Kenya, Malawi, Uganda, Swaziland and Egypt. Ethiopia has amended their biosafety laws with a view of boosting its cotton production to feed the textile industries.

Acknowledging the persistent controversies on the application of modern biotechnology, the SG called for a paradigm shift in how COMESA, AATF and other actors will engage the public and policy makers on awareness-raising efforts regarding merits and the promise of modern technologies.

“A farmer-centered, bottom-up approach should underpin meaningful strategies and achievable outcomes as such approach in technology dissemination and adoption has proven successful in other regions of the world such as in China, Asia and South East Asia and should be emulated,” he said.

Globally, 28 countries have adopted one or more biotech crops with 180 million hectares involving 18 million farmers both at small and commercial scale in developed and developing countries.

Dr. Kyetere said science and technology can play a key role in addressing farmers’ constraints as the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD and governments in Africa have already indicated their support for science and technology as a tool for agricultural development.

He however regretted that some new innovative technologies had sparked controversy amongst certain quarters of society such as the genetic modification, the still developing seed systems and young regulatory system among others.

“For AATF, the decision on what kind of technology to bring to farmers is informed by the kind of constraint farmers are facing, ongoing efforts to address these constraints and their chances of success,” he said.

“In taking this approach, AATF does not therefore segregate technologies based on type but rather on what is deemed as best option following consultations with stakeholders along the value chain including policy makers and farmers.”

In this regard, he said, the AATF will undertake broad based and inclusive information dissemination campaigns coupled with capacity strengthening in a more structured manner.