At the turn of the 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; they are now planted by over 15.4 million farmers in 29 countries with 90% of the farmers from 19 developing countries (ISAAA 2010). In Africa, 3 countries have commercialised GM crops: South Africa (ranked 9th globally - Bt cotton, Bt maize and Bt soybeans), Egypt (Bt maize) and Burkina Faso (Bt cotton).
The intense debate over agricultural biotechnology and its application focuses mainly on hypothetical risks and questions related to value, safety and impact (agronomic, economic and environmental). However, with greater understanding of the technology and increased use globally, many of these questions have been put to rest. Numerous studies and evidence-based fact finding missions have shown that biotechnology-derived products have been proven to be economically viable, environmentally sustainable and as safe as their conventional counterparts.
Most African countries, however, remain 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.
The Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology is a platform that brings together stakeholders in biotechnology and enables interactions between scientists, journalists, the civil society, law makers and policy makers. AATF as an African-led charity designed to facilitate and promote public/private partnerships for the access and delivery of appropriate proprietary technologies with potential to increase the productivity of resource-poor smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa, has partnered with like-minded organisations in five African countries to launch and sustain country chapters of OFAB in Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya and Ghana.
The Ghana chapter is hosted by the Council for Science and Industrial Research (CSIR). CSIR is made up of 13 research institutes and has the mandate to generate and apply innovative technologies which efficiently and effectively exploit Science and Technology for socio-economic development in the critical areas of agriculture, industry, health and environment; and improve scientific culture of the civil society. OFAB, therefore, offers it an opportunity to further fulfill its mandate by creating avenues to disseminate information on scientific research and innovations. Ghana is well poised for OFAB Ghana Chapter with the passing of the Biosafety Bill and other platforms such as SABIMA that seeks to strengthen capacity for safe application and management of biotechnology. The Government of Ghana has provided strong support for science and technology with the pledge of 1% GDP which represents a more than 200% increase for STI.