The Herald (Harare)

Africa: Invest in Food Security, African States Urged

Abuja — African governments should invest in development of laboratory infrastructure to promote agricultural research that addresses food security challenges facing the continent.

Agricultural biotechnology experts launched the appeal at the annual meeting of the Open Agricultural Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB) in Africa which was held recently in Abuja, Nigeria.

Professor Baba Yusuf Abubakar, executive secretary of the Agricultural Research Council of Nigeria, said African governments must seriously consider investing in laboratory infrastructure to promote research and ensure that the continent realised its ambition to become an agricultural research hub.

"The most expedient way to achieving agricultural development in any nation is by embracing and investing in technology acquisition, development, adaptation and adoption for use by the farmers of such nations," he said.

"African farmers face numerous challenges in their quest to increase productivity and investing in laboratory infrastructure can ensure that we can scale up research that responds effectively to some of their needs."

National Biotechnology Authority of Zimbabwe chief executive and registrar, Dr Jonathan Mufandaedza said improving laboratory infrastructure would help Africa qualify and certify the status food consumed on the continent.

"As we adopt agricultural biotechnology, let's also address infrastructural development and human capacity development issues. Our governments and our funding partners should assist us in this regard.

"We must take practical measures to ensure that Africa has a voice in setting the agricultural research agenda that addresses the needs and aspiration of our farmers."

Dr Nompumelelo Obokoh, chief executive of AfricaBio, said the continent must explore ways of mobilising resources to improve laboratory infrastructure and training scientists in agricultural research.

"We should embrace public-private partnerships to build our laboratory infrastructure and develop our research capacity," she said. "There are many ways of doing this to address the continent's food security challenges.

"Infrastructure is a critical component of agricultural research. We can't have promotion of agricultural biotechnology on its own without also addressing laboratory infrastructure, our regulatory frameworks and our manpower needs."

Agricultural biotechnology experts say obstacles to the scale-up of research include shortage of trained personnel, poor laboratory management systems, and lack of accessible and quality-assured laboratory services to support meaningful research in agriculture.

Limited resources, they also say, hamper provision of high-quality laboratory infrastructure capable of consistently churning out accurate test results.

"Lack of an overall vision of the critical role of the laboratory in the agricultural research sector is worrying," said one expert.

"Investments in laboratories are largely absent or inadequate at best in most African countries resulting in run-down services and unreliable laboratory results. We need to change this and move to support the needs of our farmers."

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