USA and Seychelles target agricultural biotechnology to improve food security |19 November 2021
The United States embassy in collaboration with the Seychelles department of agriculture yesterday organised a half-day workshop on ‘Using agricultural biotechnology to mitigate the effects of climate change’, bringing together stakeholders in government and farmers.
The workshop, which was officially opened by acting deputy Chief of Mission for the United States embassy to Mauritius and Seychelles, Thomas D. Kohl, and the Minister for Agriculture, Climate Change and Environment Flavien Joubert, comes at an opportune time as Seychelles pushes towards optimising local agricultural production, building a resilient agricultural sector, towards improving food security.
As explained during the session, agricultural biotechnology is a collection of scientific techniques used to improve plants and animals, or develop micro-organisms for specific agricultural uses.
It is one of the tools that can be used to help crops survive climate change, and which supports innovation in the agricultural sector to reduce the impacts of droughts, soil salinity and acidity, heavy rainfall and new pests.
Mr Kohl, in opening the workshop, highlighted the various benefits to the local sector that biotechnology offers, especially in terms of government’s strategy.
“I am pleased to note that the ministry is working on a series of policies and programmes to increase food production in the country, in order to decrease its heavy dependence on imports. This new food production strategy is an important step in reviving the agricultural sectors. As Seychelles seeks to optimise production of core crops, agricultural biotechnology represents promising options,” he said.
“It allows small-scale farmers to use fewer imports, spend less time in the fields, and suffer less crop loss, thereby improving food security and building more resilient communities. In Nigeria, the government recently approved a new strain of the genetically-engineered cowpea (black-eyed peas) for commercial use. This cowpea is resistant to the pod rorer, an insect that easily destroys at least 80 percent of an ordinary cowpea crop. Farming this genetically-modified cowpea is now helping small farmers maintain their livelihoods,” Mr Kohl noted.
Biotechnology is expected to contribute directly to Seychelles’ COP26 commitment of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 26 percent by the year 2030, by allowing farmers to increase production per acre while conserving water, and reducing the need for chemicals and such. Furthermore, experts have found that genetically modified crops can reduce emissions produced from other farming activities and has the potential to provide a promising option for Seychelles to explore an alternative method for pest control. It must be noted that earlier this year, government imposed a ban on the movement of tomatoes from Praslin to Mahé due to the tuta absoluta pest.
For his part, Minister Joubert assured farmers that the ministry will deliver on its vision, by supporting farmers to expand existing operations, and increase the land area under agricultural production, thus boosting local agricultural production in crop and livestock.
“The impacts of both climate variability and the effects of climate change over the past decade have been very pronounced on land-based food production efforts. Crop pests and diseases such as the tuta absoluta, the hairy caterpillar and eggplant fruit and shoot borer, are forever reducing agricultural productivity. Heavy rains continue to render the soil infertile, and this is further compounded by soil fertility inhibition practices,” Minister Joubert said.
“The majority of small farmers cannot easily afford climate change adaptation technologies. Seychelles has already benefitted from a generation of biotechnology products and agriculture. However, the workshop will surely provide more opportunities in learning how to mitigate the effects of climate change,” Minister Joubert stated.
Yesterday’s workshop is the second of its kind, the first of which was held in 2019.
US consultant David Heron, an expert in biotechnology and government regulatory frameworks whose participation was facilitated by the US embassy, led the workshop virtually. Local experts also did their part, facilitating short presentations and sessions within the workshop.
Principal agricultural scientist at the department of agriculture Roy Govinden, chairperson of the Agricultural Producers Association Barry Nourrice and principal biosecurity officer at the National Biosecurity Agency Randy Stravens provided an overview of the local context and the challenges faced, ending with a session by Dr Heron on key considerations when choosing a regulatory approach.
Photos by Jude Morel