Expert seeks use of innovation to improve livelihoods

Prof. Olalekan Akinbo, Supervisor at Centre of Excellence in STI, African Union Development Agency (AUDA –NEPAD), has called on Nigeria and other African countries to take advantage of innovation to improve livelihoods of citizens.

Akinbo made the call while responding to questions on genome editing technology in a telephone interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on Sunday.

He said: “Since Africa is naturally agrarian, the opportunity this technology offers should be utilised.

“This is by adding value to the available rich natural resources through innovation, in order to improve the livelihood of the citizenries.”

Akinbo noted that many African governments had strong policies for innovation as a milestone that would improve the economy as well as create enabling environment to support innovative ideas.

“I’m talking about innovation in technology, agriculture, petrochemical among others because innovation is the pathway that many African countries have now taken in trying to improve the lives of citizens.

“A case in point are countries that have established ministries and parastatals that focus specifically on innovation and some of these ministries have added innovation to the name of the ministry.

“That shows government’s commitment to innovation and in most of the AU decision process, there have been decisions that support innovations for the improvement of livelihoods,’’ Akinbo said.

The AU Official stated: “African countries also commit some percentages of national budgets to support innovation but in this context, nothing is too much as there is always scarcity of resources.

“Governments have been making efforts to ensure that they are part of the agenda, as well as creating enabling environments to enhance innovation.

“Nigeria is an example, Nigeria is a leader and we witnessed how the Ministry of Science and Technology was changed to Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation, indicating that the government supports innovation.

“There are also many start-ups in Nigeria these days and Nigeria is actually a leader in so many things in Africa especially in the area of innovation and creating enabling environment”.

According to him, out of the 55 member states in Africa, South Africa had taken advantage of innovative way of breeding plants.

Akinbo listed other countries that had also moved in this direction to include: Ethiopia, Malawi and Eswatini, who had all adopted biotechnology crops.

He said Kenya had not only adopted biotechnology crops but had also established research institute that focuses on biotechnology.

The AU Official recalled that Nigeria had adopted two biotechnology crops, both for feed and food while others were in the pipeline.

He said: “Looking at this, for a government to have approved these biotech crops is indicative of its willingness and even establishing an agency that sees about safety.’’

He maintained that Nigeria’s National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) was also responsible for the approval of biotechnology related products.

Akinbo re-iterated that Africa, especially Nigeria had given a supportive role to the improvement of biotechnology adoption which would also influence the pathway genome editing technology would go.

The expert said genome editing was an emerging technology with a new innovation that would help in various areas of improvements.

They include; agriculture, climate change and health, among others, all geared towards improving livelihoods.

On the safety of genome editing technology, he said people usually have a phobia and skeptical about the advent of every new technology.

“That something is new doesn’t mean it is not safe,’’ he said.

According to Akinbo, some food crops that people initially thought to be unsafe are now being eaten by them.

Citing an example, he said cassava, which has become a staple in numerous homes in Nigeria contains cyanide acid, adding, “but, due to its importance, scientists were able to manage this acid through processing for safety.

“Though nothing is safe as people are bound to entertain some doubt, genome editing does not include any external introduction.”

Akinbo assured that the technology of genome editing made use of information stored in the DNA to improve on its usage.

“So, from the scientific point of view, genome editing is safer compared to other imagined technology that had been in existence,”he said.

Akinbo added that apart from Nigeria that had already developed the guidelines for the adoption of genome editing, Ethiopia had also done so while others were either at the drafting or signing stages.

Source: News Agency of Nigeria