BIOTECHNOLOGY and genetic engineering have the potential to do for agriculture what the world is seeing happening in the mobile technology even in rural Africa, a renowned Harvard University scholar, Prof Calestous Juma, has said.
Prof Juma, who was in the country for the Global Smart Partnership meeting and subsequently gave a public lecture at Commission for Science and Technology (COSTECH), advocated for the adoption of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), saying they would boost food and income security.
He, however, cautioned that it would be detrimental to adopt GMOs without clear flexible and supportive biotechnology regulations, calling for review of the strict liability clause in bio-safety regulatory framework to be removed to increase output of crops.
The contestable clause in the bio-safety regulatory framework ensures that even if GMOs were to be introduced, the companies supplying them would be accountable in case anything wrong happens.
Prof Juma has authored several books on Africa's development, including The New Harvest, which is arguably today's most authoritative scholarly work on agriculture in Africa.
At the public lecture he emphasised the role of technology in transforming livelihoods, insisting that if Africa didn't embrace GMOs in agriculture, the problems like climate change, pests and diseases that have dogged the sector over the years would devour production to shocking levels.
He cited the Banana bacterial wilt which has devastated banana growers in Kagera Region, saying the problem would be deterred if farmers planted GMO banana varieties that are resistant to the wilt. He decried the phenomenon of resisting new technologies, saying it won't help Africa to develop.
On the safety of GMOs, he likened the current debate to the rumours that were circulated during the early days of mobile technology that the phones would cause brain cancer.