African governments need to commit resources to sustain biotech industry in Africa – Prof Gordon Awandare

Sammy Danso Eghan
Sammy Danso Eghan
5 Min Read

Director of the West African Center for Cell Biology and Infectious Pathogens (WACCBIP), Prof. Gordon Awandare has called on African governments to create opportunities for sustainability of the biotechnology industry in Africa.

He made this call at the opening of the Building Basic Science Capacity for Sustainable Research in Africa webinar organized by BlackInImmuno yesterday.

He said it is high time African governments commit resources to complement the work of African immunologists.

The desire is there. The young people are motivated. They are ready for opportunities, and they are just looking for a chance to develop their talents. And so we’ve made progress but would African governments step up? Would they commit the resources that they need to do…to make this type of effort sustainable…to make sure the environment that we are creating can be sustained.

Prof Awandare further emphasized the need for a vibrant biotechnology industry and private sector partnerships with the biotechnology training institutes to absorb trainees, and utilize their knowledge to create products and drive innovation.

In West Africa and in many parts of Africa, there’s hardly any biotech industry. And so a lot of the work we do… we don’t have the private sector partners that need to take the knowledge, and take it further to develop it into products, to innovate. In addition, we need the private sector as an outlet for the people with training. We’re training so many people…we don’t want all of them to be in universities or research institutions. We need them to take the knowledge and go to the industries to innovate and create products. And so we need a vibrant industry to be able to provide an opportunity for the trainees coming out of institutions such as WACCBIP

Prof Awandare charged young scientists to be committed, hone their technical skills and ethics, and be deliberate about their professional development.

You need to be committed to what you are doing. I always ask my students how badly do you want to succeed and what are you willing to give for it? We need to be able to make some sacrifices in other to be successful, because in where we are nothing comes easy, and you to really need to go above and beyond to become successful. So you need the full commitment. You need to be competent. You need to be honest with yourselves. You need realise that in order to be successful, you need to be technically good, you need to be good in writing and be able to speak well. So if you are lacking in any these areas you have to seek help and build your capacity in those areas, because these are three key aspects of your skill set that you need in order to be successful as a scientist. You need a good work ethic, you need to be competitive, consistent.

Biotechnology is a powerful tool to modify genetics in crops and animals that would otherwise be impossible through classical breeding. Harnessing this offers Africa an unparalleled opportunity to circumvent a range of challenges in crop and animal agriculture.

In 1998, South Africa became the first African country to plant biotech crops, beginning with insect-resistant cotton, followed by maize and soybeans. Only six other African countries have approved Genetically Modified crops: Sudan, eSwatini, Ethiopia, Malawi, Nigeria and Kenya. 

Sudan, Malawi, and Nigeria grow GM cotton, while field trials of several other GM crops — cassava, cowpea, banana and Irish potato are taking place in Mozambique, Kenya, Uganda, Ghana, Burkina Faso and Rwanda.

These countries belong to the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB), established by the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) in 2006 as a platform for advancing stakeholder interactions on agriculture biotechnology, and supported by AUDA-NEPAD.

Story by: Sammy Danso Eghan

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