Ethiopia: Enhancing Local Capacity in Utilizing Biotechnology

For the last three decades biotechnology has been playing a crucial role in improving agricultural productivity and currently many countries have been familiar to this innovation said Dr. Kasahun Tesfaye, the Ethiopian Biotechnology Institute Director.

As to him, technology utilization, both traditional and modern has contributed a lot for the sector's development.

It comprises the experimenting of transgenic crop which created tremendous impact in rising productivity as well as resisting diseases and droughts since 1996 GC.

In Ethiopia, offering courses in biotech in higher educational institutions began in the 1980s GC. With the support of the Sweden government that is SIDA's project, the agricultural biotechnology laboratory is opened in the AAU science faculty.

Since then the technology is utilized at various levels. Nevertheless, in most cases, it is the conventional biotechnology that is applied.

Traditional biotech in food and beverage preparation has been utilized since time immemorial.

Through utilizing genetic indicators conventional biotech has helped to develop tissue culture experiment since 1970s. Recently, capacity building works have taken place for utilizing transgenic organism.

In Ethiopia, currently four institutions have developed the capacity for genetic sequencing. Five years ago such activity was unthinkable locally. The samples were sent abroad. Now thanks to the local professionals the job is done here.

Utilizing the technology depends on and varies according to time duration. It also requires laboratory and enabling environment. In fact there are some bottlenecks in purchasing equipment from abroad.

Currently, up to 13 universities graduate students with BSC in biotechnology and about 8 universities graduate students with Master's degree and 4 universities teach Ph.D. students. This year the AAU first batch of biotechnology students had graduated with Ph.D. As compared to the past, currently the number of graduates in biotech in the civil service is increasing.

Previously, the Ministry of Agriculture and AAU were the only institutions which had laboratories used both for teaching and research but now more universities teach master's program in biotech having organized their own laboratory for dual purpose, teaching and research.

Several private firms are also engaged in tissue culture experiments.

The Mekele University Tissue Culture Center can be said the regional hub in this regard and annually breeds 40 million seedlings.

The recently opened Dessie Tissue Culture Center also breeds 25 thousand seedlings annually. The Bahir Dar and the Adami Tullu centers also have immense capacity in this regard. The laboratory facilities are also increasing from time to time.

Though development in utilizing the technology is showing an upward trajectory, the institutions are not sufficient enough to cope up with the rapidly growing usage of technology. It is not static, it is changing. Therefore, capacity building work should keep going.

The Ethiopian Biotechnology Institute is exemplary in this regard.

During the outbreak of COVID-19 with the cooperation of the Ethiopian Public Health Institution it adjusted its laboratory equipment to be ready for examining the virus. It showed its coping mechanism with the flexible nature of the technology.

The Ethiopian Agricultural Research Institute Director Dr. Tadesse Daba on his part said that,Though the technology is widely applied on agriculture and industry, his institution focuses on agriculture. At the international level the technology is more utilized for agricultural research and solving the sector's problems.

It helps to raise productivity, improve the quality of crops and overcome challenges posed by herb and pests.

As to Tadesse, EARI is engaged in various activities. The firs one is plant biotechnology, which focuses on tissue culture in which breeding similar specious rapidly and preserving the specious in the laboratory for long.

The other activity is working on molecular and genetics. Here through various centers studying characters and developing works will take place. The third program is working on genetic engineering. In addition to these, changing gene through natural way or artificially will be conducted.

With regard to animal's gene, improving reproduction is underway. For example, increasing the heat period of animals in large number and ensuring the birth of more off springs are among the task. In addition, accelerating breeding is conducted.

Side by side with this, producing vaccines helpful to produce antibodies is effectively done.

With regard to micro biotechnology, it is possible to prepare enzymes and amino acids helpful to produce food and forages with metabolic system.

Research is also underway on bio fertilizer and producing anti pests in biological way which substitutes chemical fertilizer. Changing agricultural bio products in to crucial inputs is also underway. Microbes also serve to clean the environment.

Assefa Gudina, from the department of biosafety in the Ministry of Environment Forest and Climate Change on his part said that, while applying biotechnology for the safety of biodiversity, Ethiopia abides by both international convention and local laws and signed the agreement on protecting biodiversity ratified by 200 countries. It stipulates utilizing natural resources in sustainable way and mitigating the possible damage on nature while utilizing the biotech.

It also indicates benefit sharing of biodiversity protection with the local community stipulated by article 19 sub article3.

The other crucial matter mentioned in the agreement is that, when counties transport the product of biotech from place to place they pay attention to manage the negative impact of the product on human beings and the environment.

The Cartagena protocol is derived from the international biodiversity agreement.

Ethiopia has signed and ratified the Cartagena protocol in 2009. But the ratified protocol had to be amended as the protocol discourages studying and researching on the technology. It also prohibited transporting biotech products from place to place and after taking additional input from stakeholders, the new law was ratified in 2015GC.

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