Successful biotechnology and biosafety study tour to India for African delegates

India, the other Asian dragon ranks today among the emerging markets. Africa has a lot to learn from India which, in many respects, has similarities to the continent: a dynamic population with fairly similar agro-ecological conditions and dominance of smallholder farmers, but also enormous food security and natural resources management challenges.
It is in this context that the African Union Development Agency (AUDA-NEPAD), in collaboration with Michigan State University in the USA, organized from 8 to 16 February, 2020, a study tour at three locations in India covering New Delhi, Jalna and Hyderabad. Delegates from different African countries, including Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mali, Nigeria and Togo took part in this study tour.

Participants during field visits in Jalna

Group picture of participants before the statute of Dr Norman Borlaug in ICAR premises in New Delh

The purpose of the study tour was to provide to regulators and scientists with an opportunity to learn from India’s experience in B.t. cotton. In the Indian capital, New Delhi, they were able to exchange views with the first officials of the Indian Council for Agricultural Research, which groups together around a hundred research institutes across country in the various agricultural commodities. The participants were also able to immerse themselves in the legislative and institutional framework for biosafety and crop improvement, including the role of the state and national government agencies, the private sector, and civil society in the legal and institutional framework.
In Jalna, participants were able to touch on the realities of B.t. cotton with the crucial role played by the private sector in this area. They were amazed by the performances of private companies such as Kalash Seeds specializing in the production of hybrid crops and the Mahyco Company, giant of the production of hybrid cotton and GMOs. They were also able to see in Hyderabad the results of the research of private companies like Nucleome Informatics, one of the companies in the world specialized in the sequencing of genomes, and also JK Seeds which invests in research and development of improved cotton and cereals crops such as B.t. cotton, hybrid millet and hybrid sorghum. Another essential step in this study tour was the visit to the headquarters of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in Hyderabad, which has numerous representations in Africa and has achieved outstanding research outcomes in fields like aflatoxin control in various commodities including groundnuts.
With its fast-growing demography, it is urgent that Africa acquire the tools necessary to modernize its agricultural production and enhance productivity in order to achieve food self-sufficiency and produce wealth for a harmonious and sustainable development, beneficial to all layers of population.

Participants share their views on the study tour

Prof. ALEKA Fekadu Beyene, Commissioner at the Environment, Forest and Climate Change Commission of Ethiopia

Prof. ALEKA Fekadu Beyene

“I am impressed of how the seed companies are developed in India and how they are collaborating with many actors, and address the real issues of smallholder farmers. This can be useful for African smallholder farmers.”
Prof. Aleka emphasized that the Indian experience better benefits smallholder farmers in Africa because the conditions and the systems in India are related to Africa than the experiences elsewhere. He stressed, “to fully benefit from this, we will also need adaptive research in Africa and trials and cooperation with local research systems, universities and extension structures. I would really like African researchers to try to work in close collaboration with researchers elsewhere that are responding to the needs of their resource poor farmers. Research needs to be relevant and adapted to their context and must address local farmers’ problems.”


 

Dr. Diarrassouba Nafan, Director of UFR des Sciences Biologiques, University of Korhogo in Cote d’Ivoire, and member of the National Biotechnology and Biosafety Council.

Dr. Diarrassouba Nafan

“We came here to India to learn about their technological innovations and especially their rich experience in B.t. cotton. This visit has allowed us to see the policy behind biotechnology and biosafety in the country and to understand Indian realities and this gives us perspectives and ideas regarding the innovations that we must introduce in our country.
As a researcher, the field visits really impressed me and in particular the visits to seed production sites in Jalna. These are initiatives that we are able to introduce in our countries. It is private individuals who have harnessed the techniques for producing improved GMO and non-GMO seeds. Today more and more, it is no longer a question of throwing out of hand all that is GMO but it is rather necessary to focus on the legislation which can allow those who want to use also the different technologies do so, to be able to cope with often very difficult production conditions in the context of climate change. Such initiatives are really welcome and we thank AUDA-NEPAD and Michigan State University and all the institutions we visited in India for their contribution to the success of this study tour.

M. Alhousséïni Boubacar, Head of « Département Conventions, Accords et Traités at Agence de l’Environnement et du Développement Durable (AEDD) », Focal Point of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety in Mali.

M. Alhousséïni Boubacar

“I thank AUDA-NEPAD and Michigan States University for allowing us to participate in this study tour. We do not always realize the importance of technology in Africa and we often look at technology from a far without wondering if we can reach to that level. Thanks to this visit, I have a good understanding of agricultural technology different from what I had before.
I also thank the Indian partners who welcomed us with open arms and who opened all doors for us. We visited seed companies, laboratories as well as greenhouses and fields, and the doors were always open. They are partners who are ready to help us on all fronts.
It would be useful to include participants from the private sector in Africa in this kind of visit so that stakeholders in this sector in Africa can see what is being done in India in terms of improved seed production and technological innovations. As soon as I return, I would like to launch the idea so that such an initiative can materialize.
We will still need the support of AUDA-NEPAD, not only at the technical and financial level but also in terms of advocacy with our States to try to raise awareness because we always have a fixed idea of the past. Today, with what I have seen and what is happening in the world, if we are not careful, we will not be able to reach the food self-sufficiency that African countries currently strive to achieve.”