Friday, April 19, 2024
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East African States Embrace GMOs

by Wangah Wanyama
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BY Apollo Mubiru


The 3rd East African Community (EAC) Regional Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) has resolved that Partner States should preserve genetic materials for future generations through creation of a regional genetic store.
The conference that ended in Nairobi, Kenya on Friday further resolved to address the misconceptions surrounding Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) technology and reiterated the need to create awareness of this technology for it to be embraced in order to meet the food and other needs of the region.
It was noted at the three-day conference that most of the discussions around the adoption of GMOs were based on misinformation and rumours and that Africa could lose out on the immense opportunities offered by GMOs to boost food security, increase agricultural exports, improve nutrition and eliminate hunger.
It was agreed that GMOs experts should unpack the technology in simple terms for decision makers and members of the public to facilitate open debate on the importance of adopting the technology.
The conference underscored the need for free trade and movement of food in the region with the observation that there are numerous instances where one Partner State has a food surplus while others faced hunger due to the presence of non-tariff barriers that hinder movement of food products across national borders.
The conference further called for the formulation and adoption of clear policies and strategies for promoting bioeconomy in the EAC region in tandem with international standards harmonised across the region but with each country independently developing its own roadmap for implementation.
On the nascent digital economy in East Africa, the forum urged Partner States with the support of the private sector and development partners, to formulate and enact appropriate regulations that encourage the population to engage in digital entrepreneurship.
The conference urged Partner State’s governments to remove taxes and levies on new digital businesses for a pre-determined period for such businesses to stabilise.
Universities and other training institutions were also encouraged to develop and implement digital literacy programmes targeting both rural and urban populations.
On the need for quality postgraduate education, the forum called on universities and development partners to provide PhD scholarships for young graduates (less than 30 years old) in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) areas.
It was noted that the majority of PhD candidates in the region were in their 40s and 50s with only a small number of doctoral students being below 30 years.
On manufacturing, the forum pushed for the promotion of smart manufacturing through the integration of automation in manufacturing processes.
On artificial intelligence (AI), the meeting called for greater use of AI technologies in data analysis for purposes of data-driven decision making and predictive maintenance in addition to the need for implementation of blockchain and Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology across the region.
The forum urged EAC Partner States to utilise science diplomacy to enhance human capital in the region by attracting highly skilled experts in STEM areas working in the diaspora to return to their home countries, and to also consider declaring a Decade of Diaspora Return specifically for that purpose.
On digitalisation of government services, the conference urged Partner States to adopt greater use of E-Government initiatives through Implementation of digital platforms and e-commerce.
Also agreed on was the need to speed up skills development and education by encouraging stakeholders to adopt e-learning platforms and develop greater human capacity through appropriate training programmes.
The forum called on stakeholders to collaborate in their innovation efforts through Open innovation platforms and technology hubs.
The conference called for increased investment in digital infrastructure especially in broadband connectivity and cybersecurity to improve cross-border communication for purposes of growing trade and prosperity in the region.
It was further resolved that multi-disciplinary engagement be deployed to resolve problems across borders throughout the region.
The forum also called for the development of advanced Digital Financial Services in order to enhance access to funds and manage wealth in East Africa.

Students of Makerere University with researchers and activists for GMOs matching during the GMO walk pix by Agnes Nantambi


On attitudes towards science in the region, the conference vouched for cohesive conversation among Stakeholders on Open Science, and called for National/ Regional Open Science Policy Dialogues to take up a multi-sectoral approach.
The conference urged respective governments and institutions to establish innovation, reward and incentive schemes to encourage the culture of innovation across East Africa.
The participants called for the development or adoption of the best and most reliable Open-Source infrastructures (platforms, repositories, etc.) which are cost effective.
Partner States’ governments and other stakeholders were called upon to allocate adequate finances from national Research and Development budgets to advance Open Science.
The forum reiterated the need to deconstruct long-held skepticism regarding Open Science and called for greater adoption of open science practices by universities and research institutes, including establishment of shared research computing practices.
It was noted that the skepticism towards science was behind the rejection of vaccines including the Covid-19 vaccine among other jabs, and scientific innovations with the potential to transform negative situations for the better.
Speaking during the closing session of the conference, Uganda’s Minister of State for EAC Affairs, James Magode Ikuya, pointed out that science, technology and innovation (STI) was the driving force behind development, adding that increased investment in STI will enable Africa to rediscover its true potential and be a key player in the global economy.
On the adoption of GMOs, Ikuya urged the experts to spearhead public debates and discussion on the subject to facilitate decision making on the innovation, adding that the simplification of terms and unpacking of complex issues would be key to the adoption or non-adoption of GMOs in the region.
“There is an urgent need to build local capacity to communicate simply and clearly on GMOs and other technologies,” Ikuya said.
Ikuya said that the creation of a genetic bank of local species was critical for the sake of future generations given the huge amount of biodiversity that is native to Africa but has now almost been lost. The Minister said that such a genome bank would be also be a key source of revenue for the region given the high cost of antique materials the world over.

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