Biotechnology and Africa’s Strategic Interests

Biotechnology and Africa’s Strategic Interests

3 December 2012. In this opinion piece, Calestous Juma, a professor of international development at Harvard University, United States, writes that while threats to global food security are increasingly evident, efforts to stall adoption of new technologies are appearing to intensify. A lack of strategic thinking about food as a national security issue is leading many African countries, Juma says, to make poor decisions regarding agricultural biotechnology. 

Juma writes: “Africa’s precautionary approaches to biotechnology are not only misguided but they expose the continent to long-term political risks. The issue is no longer a simplistic argument about becoming an importer of GM foods; it is about building up the requisite capacity to diversify the technological options needed for long-term agricultural adaptation. Biotechnology offers Africa a wider range of economic opportunities than the Green Revolution did. It is already being used to improve food production and establish or revive cotton production. Its economic impact is therefore likely to go well beyond the farm sector to include industrial development.” 

Agricultural biotechnology is already being used in numerous countries around the globe, providing new opportunities for African countries to create trading alliances, and potentially new technology partnerships. Juma argues that African leaders should appoint chief science and technology advisors that can provide strategic advice about these issues. 

“Guided by good science and technology advice, the choices open to African leaders are clear,” says Juma. “Doing nothing, especially in an age of worsening food prospects, is no longer an option. The time has come for African nations to start focusing on their long-term strategic interests. Biotechnology is not simply a matter of rhetorical debate guided by short-term interests. It is central to how African countries define their place in the global knowledge ecology.” 

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