26/03/13

Bioscience should underpin African agriculture, meeting hears

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[ADDIS ABABA] Bioscience projects including ones that turn tannery waste into manure can improve crop productivity and food security, and boost agricultural resilience to climate change-related impacts in East Africa, according to scientists.

Agricultural and biosciences scientists who met at the 1st Bio-Innovate Regional Scientific Research Conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, last month (25-27 February), say that using bioscience in East Africa could bring about socioeconomic transformation.

For instance, in Uganda, tannery and slaughter wastes are being turned into manure for crop production and clean water. Other innovations include the production of drought-resistant seed varieties that are suitable to specific agriecological areas.

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The Bio-resources Innovations Network for Eastern Africa Development (Bio-Innovate) Program was established in 2010 to support multidisciplinary biosciences and product-based innovation activities in Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda.

It currently supports nine biosciences innovation and policy consortium projects, bringing together 57 partnering institutions from across the six countries and outside the region.

Seyoum Leta, Bio-Innovate programme manager and an environmental biotechnology expert, says that modern biosciences must be harnessed to improve crop productivity.

He tells SciDev.Net that Bio-Innovate is implementing programmes in four areas aimed at:  addressing climate change adaptability; food and nutrition security; energy production from industrial waste; and securing freshwater resources.

Specific projects include waste management programmes in Ethiopia, Tanzania and Uganda, and improvements to sweet potato, cassava, potato, beans and millet and sorghum crops and seed availability in Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda.

Leta emphasizes the need for bio-sciences to improve crop productivity and resilience to climate change especially in small-scale farming systems in the region to boost food security.

Jimmy Smith, director-general of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), says the development and application of bio-science innovations could enhance agricultural productivity and boost food security.

For this reason, he says, ILRI will continue to offer assistance to bioscience programmes in the region. This will include sharing ILRI’s agricultural research platform and training facilities in Nairobi, Kenya.

Aggrey Ambali, policy alignment director at the African Union’s New Partnership for Africa’s Development (AU/NEPAD), explains that they have adopted a ten-year science, technology and innovation strategy focusing on agricultural research development and innovation.

The AU/NEPAD is also working to strengthen regional collaboration in science and technology to enable the continent to make the rapid advances that modern biosciences can facilitate, Ambali says.

This article has been produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa desk.

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