Biotechnology stewardship - Helping Africa manage a crucial technology

Stewardship requires expertise. The Foundation helps strengthen capacity for safe biotechnology management in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Addressing challenges through biotechnology

Agricultural biotechnology has made major advances since the mid-1990s. Farmers now harvest genetically modified crops on more than 170 million hectares, almost one-tenth of the world’s agricultural area. Genetic modification (GM) of crops can potentially solve some major problems faced by resource-poor farmers. These include yield loss, water deficiency, and nutritional inadequacy.

The importance of stewardship
Problems like these can be difficult to tackle through conventional plant breeding. GM technology can contribute to finding solutions. However, delivering GM benefits requires a sustained commitment to stewardship from the laboratory to farmers and households. Stewardship addresses environmental and safety questions, and ensures regulatory compliance and transparency. It is also vital for the confidence of consumers, governments, and other stakeholders.

SABIMA and the Syngenta Foundation
Delivering the benefits of biotechnology in offering unique potential for crop improvement requires a sustained commitment to stewardship. Africa currently has more than 20 GM traits in research, and the scope of biotechnology programs continues to increase. More countries are now implementing the corresponding regulatory and legal frameworks. The region’s public sector, however, has only limited experience with stewardship best practice. Worldwide, much of the experience with safe management and commercialization of GM traits sits in the private sector. The SABIMA project addresses this challenge in Africa. The Syngenta Foundation helped SABIMA to develop stewardship management as a core competency to improve African food security. The Foundation provided knowledge and experience, as well as access to its network of expert advisors in the private and public sectors. They assisted with awareness-building, training, and implementation of best practice in African public R&D organizations.

Focus on six countries

  • The SABIMA project was dedicated to strengthening Sub-Saharan Africa’s capacity for Safe Biotechnology Management. Led by the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), the project began in 2009.
  • SABIMA concentrated on developing and implementing best practice in Ghana, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Kenya, Uganda, and Malawi. All six countries are running GM research projects. Burkina Faso is already commercializing Bt cotton.
  • SABIMA was the continent’s first capacity-building program specifically for agricultural biotechnology stewardship.
  • Although the SABIMA project was conceived to strengthen the safe management of GM trait development, it emerged that the approach and best practices were equally applicable to research and development on conventional crop varieties and animal health when identity preservation of germplasm and veterinary products were paramount.
  • The Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) hosted the 1st Pan-African Conference on Stewardship of Agricultural Biotechnology in November 2011.
  • All six countries created and enacted their agricultural biotechnology stewardship policies. The program in 2012 focused on further implementation and consolidation of use of Critical Control Point Analysis and Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). Over 70 SOPs were by then in operation. There was also an emphasis on sharing knowledge, dissemination of learning from case studies and continuous improvement. 

Further information