The World Health Organization observes that 'Modern methods of biotechnology enable the accelerated development of food products with recombined or improved traits with an increased specificity compared with conventional techniques'.
Despite numerous national and international initiatives, the use and development of modern agricultural biotechnology still remains a controversial global issue. The debate revolves around the hypothetical risks and questions related to value, safety and impact (agronomic, economic and environmental).
Proponents argue that biotechnology promises a new range of products and processes for the public good. Opponents exploit aspects such as sustainability of agricultural production systems, and the cost of mitigating potential effects on health and the environment to tilt the cost-benefit scale.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) notes that 'When appropriately integrated with other technologies for the production of food, agricultural products and services, biotechnology can be of significant assistance in meeting the needs of an expanding and increasingly urbanised population . . . '.
Most African countries are reluctant to adopt biotechnology-derived products as the policy makers are confronted with contradictory sources of information. Scientific facts are often mixed with social, ethical and political considerations. In the face of a rapidly growing population, declining agricultural productivity and reduced resources available for agricultural research, policy makers are pressed to make the right decisions and are looking for guidance. A case in point is the establishment of the High-Level African Panel on Modern Biotechnology set up by the African Union to advise the African Heads of State on a common stand on biotechnology. At the country level, there is need for national scientists and experts to provide policy makers and the general public with evidence-based information needed to harness such technologies.
As an African organisation set up to access and deliver proprietary technologies, including biotechnology, to increase the productivity of African smallholder farmers, the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) initiated the establishment of a platform to facilitate the flow of information from the scientific community to policy makers and the general public. The platform, known as the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology in Africa (OFAB), is designed to bring together stakeholders in biotechnology and enable interactions between scientists, journalists, the civil society, industrialists, lawmakers and policy makers.
The launch of Uganda Chapter of OFAB took place in Kampala, Uganda on 14 December 2007 . The meeting was hosted by the Uganda National Council of Science and Technology (UNCST) in collaboration with AATF and the Program for Biosafety Systems (PBS). Other partners in the initiative include the National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO), the Association for Strenghtening Research in East and Central Africa (ASARECA), the Consumer Education Trust (CONSENT) and the Ministry of Agriculture, among other stakeholders.
The Forum takes the form of a monthly lunch meeting that provides an opportunity for key stakeholders to know one another, share knowledge and experiences, make new contacts and explore new avenues of bringing the benefits of biotechnology to the African agricultural sector.– OFAB provides an opportunity to make formal presentations or informal discussions focussing on the relationships between science, technology, innovation, environmental protection, policy, trade, social benefits sharing and their impact on economic development.