President John Agyekum Kufuor at the weekend called on African governments to as a matter of urgency create policy frameworks for research and general capacity building in biotechnology application.
He said ECOWAS countries have made positive pronouncements in this area but “the time has come for action”.
He noted that Heads of State of the African Union have already moved the agenda on biotechnology forward and have endorsed a 20 –year biotechnology action plan and have also declared 2007 as “Scientific Innovations Year”.
“To ensure that these initiatives do not remain mere intentions as we have experienced in the past, funding to propel our intentions is being considered under the recently proposed African Science and Innovation Fund''.
The President made the call in a speech read for him by Ghana's Minister for Food and Agriculture, Ernest Debrah at the last session of the Third ECOWAS Ministerial Conference on Biotechnology in Accra.
The first ministerial conference was held in Burkina Faso in 2004.
About 200 participants consisting of agricultural and environment ministers in the sub-region, technical experts in biotechnology, civil society and farmer based organizations participated in the conference.
The Mali conference adopted measures necessary for the development of biotechnologies, regional approach to biosafety and a biotechnology information and communication strategy and policy.
The four-day conference brought together experts in biotechnology from the ECOWAS countries and examined and adopted the 2007-2010 Action plan for the development of the biotechnology and biosafety within ECOWAS prepared in line with the decision taken by the ministers during the second ECOWAS ministerial conference in Bamako in June 2005.
President Kufuor urged participants to develop win-win partnerships from technology transfer arrangements to harness resources in a sustainable manner in the sub-region.
He noted that food and nutrition security remained Africa's most fundamental challenge for human welfare and economic growth which needed to be tackled by using biotechnology.
He explained that the inadequate intake of essential micronutrients by many Africans was exacerbated by arid climates and poor soils that cannot support the food needed to supply theses nutrients whilst there the problems of pests and diseases appeared to overwhelm the limited resources.
“Biotechnology is a tool to complement traditional practices and with the enabling policy environment can address the production constraints and contribute to food security in Africa”.
He urged member countries to put the necessary measures in place for sustainable funding of Science and Technology in general and biotechnology in particular.
Dr J. Cheema, USAID West Africa Mission Director said experts have estimated that African agriculture needed to grow at six per cent to achieve the Millennium Development poverty reduction goals and expressed USAID's pleasure in seeing African countries steps in taken in accelerating agricultural growth, and their commitment in to a common vision.
She cautioned that biotechnology should not be a “stand alone solution” but should be persuaded with other improvements in agricultural management, seed regulations and policies that would encourage private cooperation to maximize productivity and ensure that biotechnologies were developed and used safely according to sound biosafety criteria.