Scientists in the country are optimistic that use of modern biotechnology can help Malawi solve some of the problems in the agriculture sector,
This they believe will in turn contribute to improved crop production, thus helping the country achieve food security.
Despite formulating biotechnology policies and regulations earlier than many countries in southern Africa, Malawi is still lagging behind in terms of Genetically Modified Organisms-GMO technology and is now behind countries that formulated the regulations later.
This is attributed to among other factors the country’s limited capacity to do research and bring own GMO crops because of having laboratories that are not well equipped to do the science, the cost of the technology and people’s perception towards the technology.
Presently, there is only one genetically modified crop called BT cotton, which is in use and is contributing to improved cotton production in the country.
Production of Maize, Malawi’s staple food crop and other crops is dwindling due to various challenges including fall armyworms and drought.
Speaking during a media workshop organized by Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology-OFAB through the National Commission for Science and Technology-NCST, Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources-LUANAR Senior Lecturer in Molecular Biology and Biotechnology Abel Sefasi said the only solution to some problems in agriculture is biotechnology.
“We are not saying that biotechnology is a silver bullet or the only technology. It is not what we are saying. We are saying that there are some problems in agriculture where the only solution is biotechnology and we should present that information to the public,” Sefasi said.
He added; “As you know agriculture is the backbone of the economy of Malawi, so we believe that biotechnology is one of the tools that will help to increase the yields of our crops especially for maize, which is important. We have challenges of fall armyworms, we have challenges of drought and solutions to these are now, found in biotechnology.”
Sefasi challenged the media to help in disseminating information about the technology so that information reaches the public and present them with options since science is done for the people.
“The media have another skill that scientists do not have. They have the skills to take the information to the masses; they have the skills to talk to the public even they know how to talk to policy makers, politicians, and even those people in high positions. It is the strength that the media have so we think they will help us to disseminate the information,” Sefasi said.
“There are mixed views about the technology, so we thought we should be talking to the media to clarify the potential of biotech and what is behind the science in simple terms that everyone can understand. We know that the media, the reporters know how to package the information to clear this problem of miscommunication, misunderstanding and even lack of knowledge of biotechnology to take away those fears and concerns,” he said.
Sefasi believes that involvement of the media in promoting the technology will help the country in making strides towards widespread adoption of biotechnology.
“Us as scientists we could be doing the work in the lab, we can be doing the working in the class even in the fields at Bunda College or research station but all what we do, we do it for the public.”
“Where they think it should be done, it is our job as scientists to do the research quickly and bring the products on the market and we believe that this will contribute to the success so that in five years we should not have only cotton as the crop in Malawi, we should be having other crops,” he said.
In his remarks, Nyika Media Club Chairperson Joseph Mwale also challenged Journalists to do their part in promoting the technology.
Said Mwale; “It is very important that we have such trainings, you know one of the issues that we are lagging is in terms of technology and it is important that as journalists we understand why we only have the GMO Cotton. We now know why we are still lagging behind on GMO in terms of other crops so it has been a revelation and I think it challenges us that we have to do more advocacy.”
“We have learnt that for instance our friends in Mozambique they are using GMO maize, which is giving them bumper yields and therefore contributing towards food security. It is incumbent upon us now that we do our part, as media we can push policy makers to see to it that we get there,” he said.