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[NAIROBI] A Kenya-based organisation has set up an initiative to encourage scientists, policymakers, journalists and the public to discuss how biotechnology can improve farming.

The Nairobi Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology — launched last week (14 September) by the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) — will organise monthly debates in Kenya's capital, Nairobi.

Kenya's science and technology minister Noah Wekesa said the forum would give scientists an opportunity to bridge the gap between people strongly for and against using biotechnology.

"Scientists have a problem in reaching out to the consumers of their findings," he said.

The forum will hold monthly three-hour meetings that will include speeches by invited speakers and open discussions on agricultural biotechnologies.

A committee of scientists and policymakers will be set up to decide the agenda of future meetings.

"The foundation seeks to ensure that a critical mass of knowledge possessed by scientists is accessed by policy and lawmakers and the public," said AATF's executive director Mpoko Bokanga.

"The scientists will get to know each other better, share knowledge and experiences, make new contacts and explore new avenues for bringing the benefits of biotechnology to the African agricultural sector," said Bokanga.

AATF says it chose Nairobi to host the meetings because it has many local and international research institutes and universities offering science courses.

"The city has 15 research institutes, 35 research organisations which are mainly international, and nine full-fledged universities," said Bokanga, who is a member of the High-level Panel on Modern Biotechnology set up by the African Union and New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD).

Mark Cantley, a former science advisor to the European Commission, said at the launch event that African governments should "realign their structures to reflect new technologies — including biotechnologies — that their economies must adopt".

South African venture capitalist Wellington Chadehumbe said the forum was a perfect example of "Africans stepping up to the plate to counter challenges affecting [African] people".

The meetings will be held on the last Thursday of every month at the Jacaranda Hotel in Nairobi.

For further information, contact Nancy Muchiri, AATF's communication and partnerships manager (Tel: 254 (0)20 4223700; Email: [email protected]).