Prof Ida Sithole-Niang, Former AATF Board Chair, Elected World Academy of Sciences Fellow

By Dr Denis Kyetere

Executive Director, African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF)

February 2, 2018

Prof Idah Sithole-Niang (Centre), former AATF Board Chair and professor at the Department of Biochemistry, University of Zimbabwe, Harare

Congratulations to Prof Ida Sithole-Niang on her election as a Fellow at the World Academy of Sciences. At AATF we are proud of your leadership as Board Chair between January 2010 to April 2016. Your guidance on strategy direction and the special expertise on the Pod Borer Resistant (PBR) cowpea is priceless and gave AATF the drive to provide farmers not only in Nigeria but other countries who grow cowpea a solution to the pod borer menace that holds small holder farmers across the continent hostage.

Prof Idah Sithole-Niang, is a professor at the Department of Biochemistry, University of Zimbabwe, Harare, where she has been teaching molecular biology. She was instrumental in co-coordinating  a global network for the Genetic Improvement of Cowpea for Africa which brought development partner-attention to the crop culminating in the development of insect-resistant cowpea for Africa. She is a member of the Zimbabwe Academy of Sciences and received Outstanding Graduate Woman of the Year at Michigan State University 1988, the First William Brown Fellowship in 1990, the Rockefeller Biotechnology Career Fellowship in 1992, fellow of the Salzburg Seminars, among others.

Idah has a passion for seeking solutions to challenges within the agricultural sphere through science focusing on the plight of farmers not only on cowpea but other crops including sorghum.

For that we thank you Ida and look forward to more accolades for great strides in science and being an inspiration to many women within the science field. Your achievements have inspired passion among the scientific community for life changing research onto problems that are facing the African continent especially the small holder farmer.

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Proposed changes to Ugandan Biosafety Act a threat to scientists

By Isaac Ongu

January 30, 2018

Ugandan farmers could lose opportunities for improved harvests under proposed biosafety bill revisions. Photo by Isaac Ongu

Ugandan plant scientists face severe financial penalties and decade-long jail terms if proposed changes to the recently passed Biosafety Act 2017 are adopted, experts say.

The draft changes also would undermine several important crop breeding programs intended to reduce pesticide use and boost food security in the East African country.

The Ugandan scientific establishment and its international partners are extremely concerned about the proposed changes to the legislation, which were drafted after Uganda’s President questioned the more moderate, science-based act that Parliament passed in October 2017.

A draft of the new bill states that any “person who carries out genetic engineering shall prevent any contamination or commingling of the genetically engineered organism with any non-genetically engineered organisms” indefinitely.

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Burkina Faso making progress with GMO research

By Joseph Opoku Gakpo

January 19, 2018

Burkinafaso cotton farmer Bonne Tumai wants Bt cotton back. Photo by Joseph Opoku Gakpo

Agriculturalists in Burkina Faso say their country is still open to using the tools of biotechnology, despite the decision to stop growing genetically modified cotton.

A controversy erupted over the low quality of fiber produced by GMO (Bt) cotton, prompting a withdrawal of the seeds in 2015 after they had been in use for eight years. Some 70 percent of the nation’s farmers were successfully growing Bt cotton, so the decision to halt cultivation caused an uproar. Though farmers say they are now suffering significant crop loss, despite using more pesticides, the cotton traders who control production continue to insist that farmers plant non-GMO varieties only.

But work is still ongoing to develop other GMO products in Burkina Faso, including Bt cowpea and genetically engineered sterile mosquitoes. Destruction of cowpea fields by the pod bearer pest is a major issue in Africa. More than 40 percent of all cowpea produced in the sub region is damaged by pests. The Bt cowpea, which infers natural resistance without the application of pesticides, is expected to help reduce the level of destruction drastically.

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Freedom to innovate, Calestous dream lives on…

By Evelyn Situma

December 31, 2017

Prof Calestous Juma

The news about the passing on of Prof. Calestous Juma came as a surprise to many. Most especially the proponents of agricultural biotechnology, most of whom, he had helped voice their enthusiasm towards adoption of genetically modified technology. Among them, were senior scientists at African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), notably Dr Mpoko Bokanga former Executive Director, now a consultant with African Development Bank, and Dr Francis Nang’ayo, AATF’s Head of Regulatory Affairs.

Prof Juma and Dr Bokanga were part of the African High-Level Panel on Biotechnology commissioned by the African Union in 2006 to chart the Africa’s course on modern biotechnology. The panel held several public hearings, before compiling a landmark report, which was published in a book, Freedom to Innovate.

It was during these public hearing that Dr Nang’ayo, initially interacted with the late professor. Though he had grown up knowing about him, having attended the same school the late professor went to- Port Victoria Secondary School, later renamed, John Osogo Secondary School, in Busia County.

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Reversing the Tide of Progress: The Burkina Faso Story

By Joseph Opoku Gakpo

Dec 15, 2017

Burkina Faso cotton farmer Seidu Konatey. Photo by Joseph Opoku Gakpo

With three wives, 10 children and dozens of grandchildren to take care of, 63-year-old Seidu Konatey is a man who knows no rest. He spends at least 10 hours every day working in his 38 acres of cotton fields at Diguima and Palsama in the Pandema District of Burkina Faso.

With 2018 marking the 35th continuous year that he has been in this business, there is nothing about cotton farming he hasn’t seen before. Cotton production is a lot of work as it takes about 24 weeks from planting to maturity. But nothing troubles Seidu more than the bollworm pests that attack and destroy cotton. The larvae of the bollworm have the capacity to cause up to 90 percent yield loss on cotton fields. The pest feeds voraciously on the leaves of the plant, the plant itself and the pod that produces fiber. In West Africa, 25 to 35 percent of all cotton is lost to these pests.

Spraying pesticides has long been the main means of dealing with them. Half of all pesticides imported into Africa are used on cotton, a situation that poses an extraordinary threat to the health of humans and the environment.

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TEGO® maize farmer: I now have extra bags to sell

By Boniface Okute

November 16, 2017

Boaz Nyateng (left), a farmer and chairman of Lambwe Seed Growers Association in Homabay, Western Kenya – with one of the WEMA project’s enumerator at his farm. PHOTO/AATF

Boaz Nyateng, is one of the few farmers from Lambwe Seed Growers Association (LASGA) that survived the effects of drought-stress in 2016. This is because he planted DroughtTEGO® maize hybrid.

“Last season there was drought but I still managed to harvest 9 bags of 90 kg each (0.81 tons) from my 1 acre farm (0.405 ha; i.e. grain yield of 2 ton/ha). Those who planted other maize seed varieties harvested as little as 1.5 bags (0.14 tons; i.e. grain yield of 0.33 ton/ha) from 1 acre” said Boaz.

Boaz has been growing TEGO®, a hybrid maize from Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) Project since 2014 and has become an advocate to members of his group because of its performance and yield.

“I have been growing this variety from 2014 and even encouraged members of my group to do the same, my family now has food and I now have extra bags to sell.” Boaz learnt about TEGO® in 2014 from a field demonstration plot hosted by one of the farmers his group. The performance of that demo changed his perception and they are now growing the variety for consumption and sale.

“The field officers have also trained us on the good farming practices including how to space the seed, fertilizer application, farm management and post-harvest handling of grain. They have also linked us to Ultravetis – a seed company which supply our input store with the certified seeds enabling farmers to access the seeds easily” added Boaz.

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High-level conference on STI marks OFAB’s 10th Anniversary

By Suleiman Okoth

November 08, 2017

Participants: ‘High-Level Conference on Application of Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) in Harnessing African Agricultural Transformation’ to mark OFAB 10th Anniversary held at Speke Resort Munyonyo in Uganda, from 27 to 29 September, 2017.

A High-Level Conference on Application of Science, Technology and Innovation in Harnessing African Agricultural Transformation marked Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology in Africa (OFAB) project 10th Anniversary celebrations that were held at Speke Resort, Munyonyo in Uganda, from 27 to 29 September 2017.

The conference whose theme was ‘integrating the path in Africa’s agricultural transformation’ was organized by the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) in partnership with the Government of Uganda,  African Union Commission, New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD),  Common Markets for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and other  partners.

Over 300 delegates from Africa, Europe, Asia and America — who included current and former ministers, deputy ministers, diplomatic missions, members of parliament, heads of research organizations, agricultural experts, leaders of farmer group organizations, science journalists, among others — attended the conference.

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Africa’s Biotech Integration 20 years Overdue, Says Prime Minister

By Daniel Otunge,

November 7, 2017

Dr Ruhakana Rugunda, Uganda’s Prime Minister

The Prime Minister of the Republic of Uganda, Dr Ruhakana Rugunda, has called for urgent integration of modern biotechnology into Africa’s agriculture to help improve food security and economic growth.

He said this while officially closing The High-Level Conference on Application of Science, Technology and Innovation in Harnessing African Agricultural Transformation held at Speke Resort Munyonyo in Uganda, from 27 to 29 September 2017.

“Africa has been very slow in integrating modern biotechnology into the continent’s agriculture to help improve food security and economic growth. This is long overdue because it is now 20 years since GMOs were first commercialized. African agriculture must continue to evolve and make use of science, technology and innovations.

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Uganda poised for Bio-economy, Uganda STI Minister, says

By Daniel Otunge

November 6, 2017

Dr Elioda Tumwesigye, Ugandan Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation.

“Passing of the Biosafety Bill into law by parliament will help Uganda to develop the economy and improve its food security situation,” Dr Elioda Tumwesigye, Ugandan Minister of Science Technology and Innovation, said.

Speaking during the official closing ceremony of the The High-Level Conference on Application of Science, Technology and Innovation in Harnessing African Agricultural Transformation held at Speke Resort Munyonyo in Uganda, from 27 to 29 September 2017, the minister stated categorically that his ministry is ready to do everything possible to ensure utility of science, technology and innovation (STI) to help develop Uganda’s economy and improve food production for both consumption and exports.

Dr Tumwesigye noted that the conference whose theme was ‘Integrating the path in Africa’s Agricultural Transformation,’ could not have come at a better time when the Ugandan government is working towards passing the Biosafety Bill to implement the National Biotechnology and Biosafety Policy of 2008.

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AATF to establish annual STI policy dialogue platform

By Daniel Otunge

November 4, 2017

Dr Denis Kyetere (right), African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) Executive Director with Dr Elioda Tumwesigye (centre), Ugandan Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation during the High-Level Conference on Application of Science, Technology and Innovation in Harnessing African Agricultural Transformation held at Speke Resort Munyonyo in Uganda, from 27 to 29 September 2017

In his closing remarks, during the High-Level Conference on Application of Science, Technology and Innovation in Harnessing African Agricultural Transformation held at Speke Resort Munyonyo in Uganda, from 27 to 29 September 2017, the Executive Director of AATF, Dr Denis Kyetere, welcomed the conference’s key recommendation to establish an annual high-level platform to discuss issues of science, technology and innovation.

He promised to ensure implementation of recommendation by establishing the platform that would be used by African leaders and experts to deliberate on utilization of STI to transform agriculture. The platform would mainly focus on policy options support technology adoption and utilization by smallholder farmers who dominate farming in Africa.

Science-based biosafety laws and STI policies, laws and regulations are needed in Africa to ensure that Africa is not left behind by the on-going economic revolution led by advances in biosciences, such as modern biotechnology and gene editing, Dr Kyetere said.

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