Zim moves to develop innovative technologies

Source: Zim moves to develop innovative technologies | The Herald (Local News)

Sifelani Tsiko

Agric, Environment & Innovations Editor

Zimbabwe has started developing a communication strategy for gene editing, an innovative technology that has the potential to improve agricultural productivity in the country.

National Biotechnology Authority chief executive and registrar, Dr Tonny Savadye, told participants recently at a workshop to develop the ‘Zimbabwe Gene Editing Communication and Advocacy Strategy’ that it was critical for scientists to optimise the use of both print and electronic media to sensitise the people on the application of new breeding innovations such as gene editing that can benefit the country.

“It an important document that we have to develop,” he said. “Team work and collaboration is important in rolling out a communication strategy for modern biotechnology. I am optimistic that we are going to produce a high quality document.”

NBA in conjunction with the Scientific and Industrial Research and Development Centre (SIRDIC) with the support of the African Union Development Agency (AUDA-NEPAD) organised the workshop to help bridge communication gaps to better inform the public about the benefits of gene editing technologies.

Biotechnology researchers often struggle to identify how to communicate messages about science and how to engage with a wide variety of audiences. Gene editing is a selective breeding method that makes precise, intentional and beneficial changes to genetic material of plants and animals. Dr Ereck Chakauya, network manager of the AUDA NEPAD Southern Africa Network for Biosciences (AUDA NEPAD SANBio) said there was need to elevate the work of scientists to ensure that gene editing communicators can effectively deliver their messages and increase public understanding about the promising benefits associated with gene editing technologies.

“Some of the myths and misconceptions about new and emerging technologies will go away when biotechnology issues are communicated well,” he said. “We need to understand the modern tools and how they can be harnessed for the country’s development.” SIRDC executive director technical, Dr Leonard Madzingaidzo, said the communication initiative to simplify messaging and help the public to understand the importance of gene editing which has a potential to improve food and nutrition security, health and the environment.

“We do not just want to communicate about the scientific principles but also raise awareness, inform and educate the public on this complex subject,” he said.

“Let us engage, learn from each other, and work together towards a better understanding and appreciation of genome editing.”

Participants crafted the draft Zimbabwe Gene Editing Communication and Advocacy Strategy which is expected to assist scientists and the media to be effective communicators about gene editing research outputs to a non-technical audience that includes policy makers, farmers and journalists. Zimbabwe has adopted conducive policies that foster an enabling environment for research and development. Dr Chakauya said the communication strategy will help scientists to break down their findings into simpler language for the targeted audience. Under the Second Republic, biotechnology is no longer seen as an option but as a necessity that should be deployed alongside other conventional methods to improve genetic gains for enhanced crop productivity and agriculture value chain transformation. Zimbabwe and other African countries are gradually evolving in advances in breeding from classical to genetic engineering that now covers genome editing. Scientists say gene editing is different from genetic modification (GM), as it does not result in the introduction of DNA from other species. Local scientists say gene — editing could help improve crop harvests with a wide array of desirable traits that include — better-taste, drought — resistance and crop suitability for cold storage and other chains.

Zimbabwe now has technology and innovation hubs, agro-industrial parks and incubators, giving space to developers, designers, researchers and entrepreneurs to work on new technological solutions. The country has also embraced emerging technologies such as block-chain, data science, artificial intelligence (AI), cloud computing, Internet of things (IoT), gene editing, biotechnology and other sciences to spur industrialisation.

Zimbabwe now has the National Data Centre and the High Computing Performance Centre at the University of Zimbabwe and an array science and innovation hubs that have the capacity to produce hydrogen for energy and lithium ion batteries that are key in the transformation and industrialisation of the country.

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