interviewBy Tina A. Hassan
Dr. Dennis Kyetere is the newly appointed Executive Director of the Africa Agriculture Technology Foundation (AATF) who was in Nigeria for a familiarisation tour. Our reporter caught up with him and he explains why suitable technologies are critical for food sufficiency in Africa.
What is your plan to promote access to technology through the Africa Agriculture Technology Foundation (AATF)?
The Africa Agriculture Technology Foundation (AATF) as an organization is created to broker agriculture technologies from the private and public companies which have the technologies that are fit for African farmers but which they could not access because they have intellectual property rights. AATF is to broker those technologies and from my view, if we are to make it, we must be able to deliver these technologies to African farmers through information and knowledge sharing.
As managers, the best is to work with all partners available in the African countries south of the Sahara which is our focus for now. Our path is to create that uniqueness which is not available everywhere so that we are able to contribute to the food security of the small scale African farmer.
When you say propriety right, what are you referring to?
Propriety right refers to technologies that have intellectual property rights on them. You cannot reproduce them until you have their rights.
What experience do you have to bring into AATF to achieve this target?
First of all, I am a breeder by training. I was the first to identify and map the gene that is responsible for resistance to maize streak which is a disease in maize that reduces its production, so by background, I have that technical knowledge.
I did a lot of maize breeding before going into administration as a director-general of the National Crop Research Organization of Uganda which oversees the production of the crops and animal traits in the whole of Uganda with improved technologies. Those experiences are all basic to my work in addition to other positions that I have held.
How do we ensure these technologies are suitable to Africa?
Very good, in AATF, we don't just adopt these technologies but we look at the priorities of the sub-regional organizations. For example, in West Africa we have a body made up of about 21 countries that have set priorities which are obtained by having information from the respective member countries. Countries will identify their major production problems so we look at each country.
We also look at improving the nutrient content of our food. We select these areas and they are approved by our board and these cut across the African continent. From there, we look for those companies that have the appropriate technologies that suite the small scale farmer. It is out of this that we start to negotiate working with countries and organizations to address the challenges in African countries.
What would you say about the raging argument over Genetically Modified Organisms, GMO?
It is very unfortunate that the Genetically Modified Organisms or (GMO) is being campaigned against because as a technology, there is no proof of any danger. It is not all crops that must be modified but there are some situations whereby the best solution is to use the GM crops. For example, some farmers plant cotton with a lot of difficulty and these farmers can improve their yields with the GMO because some of them plant it over seven to 12 times before it can germinate, apart from unnecessary exposure to chemicals, whereas they can plant only once with the GM crop and the plant will survive.
How would you rate food security in Africa?
Let us not generalize, there are some countries like Ghana that are on the move to food security but we still need our governments to show commitment rather than just talk about it and they must be strong about it. Nigeria's greatest potential in agriculture can be realized through better commitment.