AU roots for adoption of gene editing to boost food production

Thursday March 30 2023
AU session

An African Union session at its headquarters in Addis Ababa Ethiopia. AU-Nepad officials are meeting policy makers from 11 African countries to discuss measures for embracing gene editing technology to boost food production in line with Agenda 63. PHOTO | TONY KARUMBA | AFP


The African Union (AU) is pushing for the adoption of biotechnology to achieve its Agenda 2063 on making the continent food secure in the wake of failing rains occasioned by the effects of climate change.

Africa Union-New Partnership for Africa's Development (AU-Nepad) officials are meeting policy makers from 11 African countries to discuss measures that the continent has put in place to embrace gene editing technology for boosting food production in line with the AU blueprint.

AU-Nepad Centre of Excellence in Science Technology Head, Prof Olalekan Akinbo, says they are having a discussion with key government officials to discuss the adoption of this technology to boost productivity and cut on import bills.

“The AU believes that the food import bill can be reduced through investments in agriculture research and innovation. In addition, we have found out that gene editing is one of the technologies that will help the continent achieve the dream of becoming food secure,” said Akinbo.

Read: Food, security likely to dominate AU summit

He said gene editing though yet to be adopted in Africa, has been proved elsewhere to produce crops with superior genes that can withstand drought and produce more yield as compared to the conventional variety.

People harvesting beans in Togo

People harvesting beans in Togo. PHOTO | GODONG | ROBERT HARDING HERITAGE VIA AFP

“Gene editing technology for a single crop takes only three years. This is sufficient time to commercialise gene edited crops,” he added.

Gene editing is a technology that allows scientists to change the DNA sequence of a plant or animal by deleting or adding the DNA in order to achieve the desired results.

Kenya is ready

Dr Martin Murigi, a biotechnology institute director at the Kenya Agriculture Livestock Research Organisation, said Kenya is ready to adopt the gene editing technology and that the country has necessary framework to regulate it.

Murigi said the fact that the technology will help in cutting down the time taken to produce new seed is a significant move towards enhanced productivity.

“It takes over 10 years for scientists to come up with one hybrid variety. But with the gene editing, this time will be cut to three years,” Murigi said.

Only a handful of African countries have the gene editing labs. These include South Africa and Uganda. Kenya has the necessary regulatory framework for this technology, but it is yet to put a lab in place for this specific innovation.

Read: Fish farming: Kenya’s ‘crop of the future’

Speaking in Nairobi, Prof Akinbo said regional countries have been encouraged to strengthen their regulatory policies to support gene editing with the view to adopting the technology.

Kenya is among the ten African countries that have initiated gene editing policy formulation as the continent wraps up its food security efforts. Others 

Worst drought ever

The calls for adoption of his technology comes at a time when Africa is staring at one of the worst droughts that has resulted to deaths of human lives as well as livestock.

A man ferries water

A man ferries water to his home in Kenya’s drought-hit Marsabit County on February 10, 2023. PHOTO | JOSEPH KANYI | NMG

The Food Security and Nutrition Working Group (FSNWG), which is co-chaired by Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (Igad) and Food and Agriculture Organisation (Fao), estimates that close to 23 million people are currently highly food insecure in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia.

According to Igad, below-normal rainfall is expected in most parts of the Greater Horn of Africa over the next two months.

Read: More hunger pangs in Horn of Africa

According to AU, gene editing can produce crops that are drought tolerant and insect resistant and help overcome climate change that the continent is grappling with just like the rest of the world.