Is biotechnology a panacea?

cover_photo1Biotechnology is often understood to mean a single technology. In reality it is a collection of technologies that can be applied to address many challenges in agriculture (crop and animal health, food production) pharmaceuticals, and medicine. Biotechnology is often seen as a panacea which is not the case; it is one more tool, albeit an important one, in the arsenal of tools used against the challenges humanity faces. In agriculture, the technology can help accelerate the development of crops resistant to insects and disease, the development of new uses for agricultural products, livestock vaccines, and improved food qualities. African institutions from Cairo to Cape Town, from Dakar to Dar-es-Salaam are using biotechnology in diverse ways.

IITA’s position on biotechnologies is similar to that on all other sciences. We think Africa, its ministries, universities, teaching hospitals, and other research institutions, should not be excluded from any science. Just the need to know, so as to advice governments on the usefulness of a technology to a country’s needs, requires their involvement and knowledge in that science. Whether a particular product of that technology, e.g., genetically modified crops, is adopted or not, is a decision made by governments and not by scientists.

A vibrant local market in Ibadan, Nigeria. Photo by IITA
A vibrant local market in Ibadan, Nigeria. Photo by IITA

Although many African governments are on the brink of embracing the promised benefits of biotechnology, they have not totally committed in terms of providing government funding for more research in agricultural and social/economic development, or policy support for science. What is needed is for R4D institutions, such as IITA and its partners to continue to provide knowledge about these important technologies and their possible impact on sub-Saharan Africa.

This issue highlights some of the cutting-edge work that IITA and its partners (AATF, NARS, donors, NGOs) are doing to help find solutions to problems in tropical agriculture, and thus provide more food and improved livelihoods for the millions of people depending on agriculture. The R4D Review welcomes feedback and comment about any of the information and work featured in this issue. We encourage you to visit the online R4D Review at

“IITA does not and has not approved or disapproved the use of GM crops in any country. IITA uses all available scientific tools and approaches in its attempt to address hunger and poverty, but the decision to reject or approve and adopt any GM products is the domain and responsibility of the respective national governments. IITA, and rightly so, has no say in such a decison. Any comments to the contrary misrepresent the facts.” —Hartmann, IITA Director General [updated from print version on 25/03/09 ED]