Biotechnology research needed to bolster food security, create jobs

16th September 2011 By: Dimakatso Motau

It was imperative for governments to explore the use of agricultural biotechnology to produce healthy food and create employment, National Research Council Canada executive director Dr Jerome Konecsni said in Johannesburg last week.

He was speaking at the opening ceremony of the Agricultural Biotechnology International Conference (ABIC), which he chaired.

This year’s theme was Agricultural Biotech- nology for Economic Development.

Konecsni said it was important to invest in research and development to ensure a safe transition to genetically modified foods, especially in Africa and developing countries, where the majority of the population live in poverty.

Gauteng MEC for Agriculture and Rural Development Nandi Mayathula-Khoza said the Gauteng provincial government was committed to exploring the use of biotechnology for food production and job creation and had a strategy in place, which was launched in 2008.

“The strategy includes using crops that are resistant to climate change for farming, public awareness of the use of biotechnology, student participation in public forums, bursary schemes to ensure that skilled people are employed in this sector and stimulating the economy through manufacturing biotechnology products,” she explained.

She noted that the Gauteng provincial government was also exploring ways to support seed funding for genetically modified crops for subsistence farmers and to assist them in graduating to medium-scale farming and creating employment. “We also aim to create a platform for partnerships to allow knowledge sharing to further grow the industry,” said Mayathula-Khoza.

Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane said biotechnology was a transformative technology entrenched in sustainable development to create better living conditions, while contributing to environment conservation.

“There is significant pressure on natural resources to provide energy for other industries, such as the power industry, through renewable energies. Food production has to explore other technological methods to provide sufficient food for the growing population of the province,” said Mokonyane.

University of Cape Town professor of micro- biology in the department of molecular and cell biology Jennifer Thomson said conventional crop improvement alone would not double crop production – hence, the need to grow genetically modified crops.

The growth of the biotechnology industry in South Africa and other developing countries depends on support from governments, access to new and improved genetically modified crops and appropriate and efficient regulation to support agricultural biotechnology, said Thomson.