Friday, September 29, 2017

Africa needs to harness the power of Science, Technology and Innovation to transform its Agriculture

By Esther Nakkazi

In an effort to transform agriculture and enhance food security, Africa needs to establish evidence-based policy and regulatory frameworks to facilitate effective utilisation of Science, Technology and Innovation (STI), a conference heard.

The three day high level conference on the application of STI in harnessing opportunities for Africa’s Agricultural transformation opened in Uganda (26th-28th), as policy makers articulated policy options to guide changes needed in Africa’s farming systems if the continent is to be bread basket for the world.

The conference marks the beginning of an annual high-level policy dialogue platform hosted by the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB) in Africa. The theme is “Integrating the Path in Africa’s Agricultural Transformation”.

It provides an opportunity to share knowledge and experiences on best technological and policy options available to stimulate sustainable agricultural development in Africa, he added.

“Agriculture is the sector upon which the success of sub Saharan Africa’s ambition for a steady economic growth rests. However, the yields of both crops and livestock in the region remains very low compared to global averages due to several challenges,” said President Yoweri Museveni in a speech read for him by Vincent Ssempijja, the Minister of Agriculture, Animal husbandry and Fisheries.

“Some of these challenges require us to harness the power of STI to transform African agriculture,” said Museveni.

“Our efforts must begin by strengthening investments in breakthrough technologies, such as climate resilient and disease resistant crops and livestock using both conventional and genetically engineered approaches,” said Museveni.

According to Dr. Denis T Kyetera, the Executive Director, African Agriculture Technology Foundation (AATF) for Africa to fully take advantage of the exiting new developments in agriculture changes need to happen in the policy front and high-level policymakers should be fully supportive of the need to integrate STI into the path towards agricultural revolution.

“There is no better way of ensuring support by the decision makers than through constructive dialogues and continuous conversations among experts, farmers and policy makers,” said Dr. Kyetera.

“Since most of the constraints for using science technology engineering and innovation in Africa are similar, we are gathered here in this high level conference for us to agree on addressing key issues that are hindering use of science, technology and innovations in commercialization of African Agriculture,” said the Dr. Elioda Tumwesigye, the Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) in Uganda .


Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Museveni Supports Agricultural Biotechnology; Speech


                                   PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF UGANDA



27-29 SEPTEMBER 2017

Honorable Ministers from Uganda and all other African Countries,

Honorable Members of Parliament,

Members of Diplomatic Missions,

Members of the Media,

Ladies and Gentlemen

I wish to welcome you all to Uganda and particularly to this first ever high level conference on the Application of Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) in Harnessing Opportunities for Africa’s Agricultural Transformation.
I have repeatedly pointed out that if we do not increase our Agricultural Production, we will not feed ourselves and like in most developing countries, Agriculture still remains the most important sector of the economies of Sub Saharan Africa in terms of GDP contribution, employment and foreign exchange earnings.

Agriculture is the sector upon which the success of Sub Saharan Africa’s ambition for a steady economic growth rests. However, the yields of both crops and livestock in Sub Saharan Africa remains very low compared to global averages due to several challenges. Some of these challenges require us to harness the power of Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) to transform African agriculture.

Africa has an opportunity that can help transform its agriculture to be a force of food security and economic growth. There are several advances in science, technology and innovation worldwide that offer Africa new tools needed to promote sustainable agriculture. Our efforts must begin by strengthening investments in breakthrough technologies, such as climate resilient and disease resistant crops and livestock using both conventional and genetically engineered approaches.

Science, Technology and Innovation is making a profound impact on agriculture production globally. The agriculture of the future will be very different from the agriculture of today and vastly different from the agriculture of the past.

One of the key technologies that is of particular focus is Agricultural biotechnology. I have repeatedly said that there is nothing wrong with this technology. We have been using it for generations and there is nothing wrong with it. However, there are lots of controversy due to misinformation which unfortunately, seems to have been bought by some legislators.

The origin of this controversy seems to have been partly legitimized through international biosafety legal instruments, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), and the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (CPB). The CPB required each signatory to put in place a national legal framework for safe development and commercialization of Genetically Modified Organisms. As a consequence, most countries in Africa have either put in place, or are working to develop, legal frameworks for development and deployment of GMOs.

My government is committed to using Science, Technology and Innovations (STI) to advance economic development. This is well articulated in my 23 Strategic Guidelines and Directives to the cabinet and in the NRM Manifesto of 2016-2021 as minimum standards for Uganda to attain the middle-income status.

Throughout history advances in Science and Technology have always been the primers for social change. STI has accordingly emerged as the major driver of national development globally. Scientific, technological and innovation advancement are a critical precursor for industrialization and socioeconomic development. 

They enable the creation of new firms and/or industries that act as avenues for translating Research and Development (R&D) outputs into commercialized outcomes comprising of new products, processes and enterprises. As Uganda aspires for faster, sustainable and inclusive growth, as expressed in the Vision 2040 and the National Development Plan II (NDP II), the Ugandan Science Technology Engineering and Innovation (STEI) ecosystem with the advantages of a large demographic dividend and the huge talent pool, will need to play a defining role in achieving the national Vision and Goals. The national Science Technology Engineering and Innovation (STEI) enterprises must become central to national development.

My government created the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MoSTI) in June 2016 to provide a basis for enhancing sector coherence and coordination.

One of the priorities for the Ministry is to spearhead the retabling and consideration by Parliament of the National Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill 2012. This Bill must be adopted for Ugandan farmers to access biotechnology products to increase their production.

I support the proposal by the Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation to establish a high level platform for Science, Technology and Innovation (PFST) Chaired by myself whose goal will be to identify, synthesise and articulate policy and strategic issues to support coherent and evidence-based decision-making by various arms of Government on STI matters especially matters related to biotechnology.

For all guests outside Uganda and in Africa, I call upon you to support your governments to embrace use of Science, Technology and Innovation in development. On the subject of GMOs, let us all move as a block and all decisions should be based on sound science. This technology is working elsewhere and we should not be left behind, the way we missed out during the green revolution that brought food security to South East Asia. We should not allow activists to continue confusing our legislators.

For God and My Country.



(The speech was read by the Minister of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries, Vincent Ssempijja) 

Friday, September 22, 2017

Age limit; Museveni Speeches Tell It All

Esther Nakkazi

Uganda medics have an uphill task. President Museveni asked their opinion on the most contentious issue in the country today. Age limit for a president.

The Uganda constitution spells out that a president should be between 35 and 75 years old. Last week, Friday 15th September, Yoweri Museveni celebrated his 73rd birthday meaning if the constitution is not amended, he cannot participate in the next elections due in 2021.

It will be Museveni’s sixth term as he has been Uganda’s President since 1986.

But in 2012, while appearing on a television show, Museveni said leaders over 75 lacked the necessary rigour and that, that was ‘scientific logic’. Now that logic needs scientific evidence from the Uganda medics.

Recently, Museveni was put on the spot, over his very remarks and not wanting to backtrack or eat his words asked the medics to give their opinion - if a 75 year old would really be ‘fit to lead or not’.

It was not the first time that Museveni sought solid scientific evidence to enable him make his next move.

When Uganda was about to pass the tough Anti-homosexuality law, Museveni was quoted by the Aljazeera news outlet as asking from scientists; "What I want them to clarify is whether a combination of genes can cause anybody to be a homosexual. Then my task will be finished and I will sign the bill.” He even invited scientists from the US to help.

This week the Uganda Medical Association (UMA), an association of Uganda medical doctors said they are waiting for a ‘formal request’ from Museveni to provide an answer. The Savings and Credit Cooperative Organization (SACCO) of UMA got a a large donation of 2 billion shillings from Museveni.

So can any of them speak up and tell the emperor that he has no clothes?

For sure even without a formal request, medics can tell Ugandans that older people in general have cognitive decline and impairment. We have all observed Museveni become less articulate, using less sophisticated vocabulary, using more fillers like ‘um’ ‘ho’ 'ni-ni' and even repeating himself, not only for speeches but even word for word.

But worse he is even getting vulgar. When he was addressing the press in 2015 at Mbale State lodge, this is how he was quoted by the Observer newspaper, "if you put your hands in the anus of a leopard, you are in trouble” "...If you go and put your finger in the anus of a leopard. You are in trouble, you are in trouble. Ho! Ho! I cant believe how people could do so. NRM?, you attack NRM people in Uganda here? If it is in South Sudan or Kenya, yes we may have some problems. But in Uganda here? Where do go? Where do you go? So there will be no problem here. Those people made a big mistake, those individuals and those children are going to regret."

Sometimes Museveni’s speeches have turned biblical and hilarious like the one he made at mark of the anniversary of Entebbe 40 year raid. The UK’s DailyMail had a fitting headline; Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni’s bizzare rambling speech. He literally said nothing much.

At most public gatherings, Museveni doses off in-front of cameras but he has defended that saying he is ‘not sleeping but meditating’. It could be stress, fatigue because he is said to put in long hours but it could also be another medical condition or age.

It is just obvious that a human being at 70 is not as sharp as they were at 40. If you analyse Museveni's speeches that is evident. At first he had brilliant ideas like barter trade among developing countries, which he explained in speeches that were peppered with phrases like ‘the most unfavorable exogenous factor is lack of access to markets in North America, EU, Japan, China, India and Russia’’.

"All protectionism, especially in the OECD countries, must end. Yet these are the countries that evangelise in the name of free trade! What a paradox that is quite unfortunate! These double standards must end,” were his signature phrases.

For the ‘State of the Nation’ address on April 11,1989 his speech was like; “I am very proud to see that one of my long-held wishes—to see the emergence in Uganda of a reasonable measure of national consensus, as well as a nonsectarian forum— is at last beginning to be realized.”

“Currently, Africa is one of the most backward continent in the whole world. Elsewhere, I have defined backwardness as the absence of a reasonable degree of development. I have also defined development as man's ability to tame his environment and utilize its natural laws for his own benefit. I am using the word "reasonable" because man's mastery of nature— even for the advanced countries—is still only relative. Nevertheless, there are those who have reasonably mastered certain aspects of nature and have, consequently, improved their lot on earth. If one, therefore, takes "development" and "backwardness" as defined above, you will agree that Africa is one of the most backward continents.”

Those were well turned in sentences with explanations showing a sharp brain at 45 years.

But these days he makes more unrealistic speeches of Uganda getting middle income status by 2020 even when organisations like the World Bank have made it clear that it is impossible. You just wonder if he lives in an alternate reality.

All he cites are investment in infrastructure, discovered oil that will create thousands of jobs. But he never mentions fundamental issues like the ever increasing corruption or even by the very least bringing down the fertility rate to 2.2% which would stabilise the population.

Uganda’s fertility is one of the highest in the world at 5.6%. By 2050, Uganda’s population will be 101.2 million and by 2040 about 75.6 million people.

Medical studies have proven that linguistic and cognitive decline often happen at the same time and verbal fluency reflects brain performance. It is normal as people age. No one can be as sharp at 73 as they were at 45.

Museveni who has a habit for speaking extemporaneously - never staying on his written speeches - is sometimes hilarious, biblical, historical and even grandfatherly so we can just follow the speeches to say what the medics can't say.  No need for medical examinations!


Conference to share the status of Agriculture in Africa; the current, past and future trends

By Esther Nakkazi

Uganda in partnership with the African Agricultural Technology Foundation, the African Union Commission and the Common Markets for Eastern and Southern Africa are organizing a three-day (27th-29th September) high-level conference on the application of Science, Technology, and Innovation (STI) in harnessing opportunities for Africa’s agricultural transformation.

"The meeting targets policymakers and is going to promote technologies that are applicable in Africa," said Dr. Denis Kyetera, the Executive Director, African Agriculture Technology Foundation (AATF).

"Ministers will engage each other and share what technologies are available in their countries. This will eventually create a conversation between the different ministries," said Dr. Kyetera.

For Africa to benefit from cutting-edge science, technology and innovation it needs to address five key issues said Dr. Elioda Tumwesigye, the Minister of Science, Technology, and Innovation (STI) in Uganda.

"The unpredictable STI policy environment; the presence of strict liability bio-safety regulatory frameworks; low technology access; insufficient command among its leaders on STI; low public investments in agricultural research, development and public perceptions."

Dr. Tumwesigye particularly pointed out that Uganda like other African countries needs urgent interventions to find ways of mainstreaming utilization of STI to transform its agriculture needs.

The conference will showcase the current and potential impact of the application of science, technology and innovation for improved agricultural productivity, value-addition and poverty reduction. 

According to Dr. Tumwesigye, participants will also share a synopsis of the current status of agriculture in Africa capturing the past, current and future trends as well as showcase the significance of enabling systems in optimizing the impact and benefits of modern biotechnology to African agriculture.

But most importantly, it will facilitate constructive dialogue amongst high-level policymakers, experts, farmers, investor, regulators, communicators, development partners and the media on the role of STIs in sustainable food systems and nutrition in Africa.

Among the topics to be discussed will be; the state of agriculture in Africa, contributions of conventional STI to modern agriculture, integrating modern biotechnology into Africa’s agriculture for food security, securing smallholder farmers’ resilience to impacts of climate change, fostering evidence-based policies for transformational change in Africa’s agriculture, strengthening intellectual property rights to catalyze transformational change in Africa’s agriculture.

Other topics will be about inspiring a Climate for Change to enhance food security, regional approaches to biotech adoption and trade in Africa, winning political patronage//support to advances science in the age of ‘alternative facts’, repositioning agriculture in Africa towards agribusiness entrepreneurial ship, biosafety gate-keeping experiences in Africa: Case study of NBMA of Nigeria and South Africa  and the role of strategic communication in technology adoption for impact.

Targeted participants of the conference include leaders and decision-makers, including H.E. General Yoweri Kaguta Museveni the President of the Republic of Uganda, Benjamin Mkapa former president of Tanzania, the Rt. Hon. Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda, Ms. Gina Grey Ivey from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. 

Others are Dr. Hamadou Biteye the managing director Rockefeller foundation, Prof. Kevin Folta the University of Florida, Dr. C.D Mayee president Asian Biotechnology, Cyprian Ebong Executive director ASARECA, cabinet ministers, lead scientists/experts, farmer union leaders, industry captains, biotech advocacy/communication networks, senior science journalists/editors, Professors, UN representatives and development partners.

Uganda is one of the African countries with a ministry devoted to STI. The Uganda Ministry of Science, Technology, and Innovation (MoSTI) was created in June 2016 in recognition of the need by Government to explicitly prioritize issues relating to STI as a key driver for Economic Development.