Since there is an urgent need for improved food production for the African people, appreciation of biotechnology serves as the best solution to challenges facing agriculture and disease therapy. Amalgamation of biotechnological solutions to solve biotic and abiotic setbacks in agriculture could help in reducing the general costs of agrochemicals thus maximizing profits and production of surplus for exportation to other countries in the world.
Kenya is one of the sub Saharan countries that has put the efforts to curb these challenges facing her. She has put structures in place to improve productivity through application of both conventional and modern biotechnology. Noticeably, Kenyan scientists have embarked on the use of molecular markers to build specific linkage maps. In essence, this has helped her to extract genes that promote livestock and crop breeding in sub Saharan countries. These mapped markers are used to select traits useful in cross-breeding practices. For instance, development of disease resistant strains especially maize streak virus and generation of pests, insects and drought tolerant crops.
These countries have also put every effort to develop Specific programs and capacities in the development of transgenic crop varieties through genetic modifications. Application of tissue culture techniques is now common place in most of these countries. This has also generated disease-free seedlings and highly productive crops. Crops like banana, potato, pyrethrum, cassava, flowers and sugarcane have been commercialized because of the profits gained due to tissue culture. To confirm the strides made by these countries, Egypt has developed transgenic potatoes, beans, maize and tomato, Kenya has come up with transgenic sweet potatoes resistant to viruses, a project carried out by Monsanto Company and also use of Rhizobium inoculants in the production of leguminous crops, while South Africa has developed tobacco species that are resistant to herbicides.
In the fight against crop pests and diseases, the use of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) is widespread in these countries. Bacillus thuringiensis is a naturally occurring soil bacterium that is toxic to crop pests. It has been used in most of these countries to control African armyworm, Bean armyworm, Cabbage looper, African bollworm, Beet armyworm, Cabbage moth, Spotted bollworm, Cabbage webworm, Diamondback moth, Cotton leafworm, Green looper, Giant looper, Tomato loope, Pod borers and Spiny bollworm. The use of this bio-pesticide has been considered efficient organic farming. It is easy to apply, environmental friendly and cheap. Bacillus thuringiensis is sprayed on the plant coverings. When it is ingested by these insects, it paralyzes their digestive system leading to starvation and death.
Recombinant DNA vaccines have also got their way into these countries to remedy livestock diseases. The most controlled livestock diseases are the Rift Valley fever and rinderpest in Kenya. This encourages livestock farmers since they cheaply buy these vaccines and also promote international livestock export business networks.
Why resort to Biotechnology.
- These countries face a myriad of challenges in the dynamic world of Agriculture, a field that is considered to be a backbone in their economies. These challenges, which include biotic and abiotic, have seen per capita food output decline significantly.
- Shortage of arable land for farming: Soil erosion and desertification due to topography and human industrial activities have consumed arable lands. Additionally, due to population increase, land in these countries has been subdivided into small plots for settlement and small scale farming. This has not augured well to large scale agriculture. Therefore, due to this shortage of arable farming, intensive biotechnological techniques are required to energize this main economical field for these countries.
- Shortage of rainfall: Studies have revealed a consistent drying trend over years in these countries. Drought has become a common occurrence in most of African Sub-Saharan countries. Poor and primitive agricultural practices are the main reasons that have precipitated this trend. Development of early maturing livestock breeds and crops and drought resistant crops is essential. Modification of crops and livestock is important so as to develop adaptability to these unprecedented climatic changes in Africa. This can be achieved through genetic engineering and tissue culture.
- Soil infertility: Inadequate rainfall that is enormously experienced in these African countries is always compounded with soil infertility. The sandy soils of these regions are prone to soil degradation and erosion which in turn makes it deficient of important soil minerals and nutrients. They consequentially lack phosphorus, sulfur and have insufficient organic matter.
This situation calls for application of chemical fertilizers that are sold expensively in these countries due to increased taxes in farm inputs. However, those who afford these fertilizers use them sparingly in such a way that does not meet crops’ requirements. Additionally, the application of these fertilizers modifies soil PH and structure leading to soil erosion. Eutrophication is also a common happening in these areas. Therefore, a call for development of new methods of production of farm inputs through biotechnology is necessary.
- Pests and diseases: The measure of pest and disease infection in Sub-Sahara Africa is manifest in the high demand farmers have for pest and disease control chemicals. Kenya is an epitome example in this situation. It records the highest rates of purchase of insecticides, fungicides, plant hormones and herbicides. The highest losses to crop and animal damage due to pests and diseases are also recorded in some of these countries. Application of biotechnological means can effectively solve these issues that threaten the progress of agricultural activities. It can allow development of disease and crop resistant crops and animals.
However, in their quest to domesticate biotechnology, these African countries face few hurdles that need to be addressed. This involve establishment of national regulatory structures and policies that govern biosafety measures and protection of intellectual property, lack of political goodwill in the implementation of these policies and poor biotechnological knowledge base in the African higher learning and research institutions.