At the turn of this century, biotechnology emerged as a powerful tool that has contributed to increased agricultural productivity in many countries. Since 1996, biotechnology-derived crops have been commercially planted and their adoption has been increasing steadily.
Most African countries have been reluctant to adopt biotechnology-derived products as 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.
AATF helped to establish a platform that aims at facilitating 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), was launched in Nairobi in September 2006. It brings together stakeholders in agriculture and enables interactions between scientists, journalists, the civil society, industrialists, lawmakers and policy makers. The Forum 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 was initiated in response to the need for better understanding of a range of products, benefits and concerns associated with biotechnology and for providing an opportunity to African agricultural scientists and experts to bring the benefit of their knowledge to bear on the finding of solutions to Africa's development problems. It seeks to ensure that a critical mass of knowledge possessed by scientists is made available to policy makers and the public.
The first OFAB was launched in Nairobi in September 2006 by Kenya's Minister for Science and Technology, Dr Noah Wekesa. The selection of Nairobi as the first city to host the initiative in the region was influenced by the presence of a number of centres of excellence in biotechnology research and development (15 research institutes, 35 research organisations (mainly international), and nine full-fledged universities) and a large number of scientists and experts who can provide answers to many of the questions of interest to the general public regarding biotechnology.
OFAB is managed by a programming committee of scientists and policymakers from Kenya's Ministry of Agriculture, the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), International Maize and Wheat Centre (CIMMYT), International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), Kenyatta University and AATF. It is chaired by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA).
This initiative aims at facilitating the flow of information from the scientific community to policy makers and the general public.