Hands over the Atlantic: exploring opportunities for microbial resource use for Africa
Published: December, 2015
The workshop, funded by the CABI Development Fund (CDF), formed a strategic part in the process of CABI responding to the request of its Member Countries to help them understand, protect and utilize their microbial diversity. CABI has a long history of working with its Member Countries in this regard and has carried out projects and capacity building activities in Europe and Asia but, to date, has not succeeded in any sustainable way in Africa.
CABI working with Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology and latterly the Kenyan Biological Resource Centre Network (KBRCN) established interest in Biological Resource Centres (BRCs) about a decade ago. The KBRCN arose through partnership with the Global Biological Resource Centre Network (GBRCN) demonstration project (www.gbrcn.org) funded by German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung – BMBF). An opportunity arose to further these efforts with a research group from Leeds Africa College, CABI, the University of Greenwich and Queensland University of Technology in collaboration with colleagues from Africa and Brazil. This was through a workshop funded by the Leeds Africa College and the Worldwide Universities Network (WUN) which sought to build on expertise in using microbes to control insect pests and their broader use in other biotechnologies. This group brought a focus on identifying and developing microbial pesticides and biological control in sub-Saharan Africa as a model system to demonstrate organism-to-market use. North–South relationships have proved difficult when they involve genetic resource use, often based on accusation of biopiracy. The workshop took a different tack and highlighted the Brazilian experiences in the sustainable and profitable use of microbial resources in ethical ways with the goal to establish South–South collaboration.
The understanding and use of microbial diversity to provide solutions to our grand challenges and to underpin the development of our bio-based economy has never been so important or timely. Africa has a vast wealth of biodiversity and is rich in microorganisms yet little is known about their potential and few activities are on-going to harness this hidden resource. There are efforts globally to develop mechanisms to access this diversity, conserve and sustainably utilize it in our everyday lives and to develop marketable products; so why not in Africa? The reasons may be many and concern: knowledge, technology, resources, regulatory hurdles and strategy. The Leeds workshop (mentioned above), attended by representatives from South Africa and Kenya, identified the need for awareness raising and capacity development to appreciate and determine courses of action to maximize sustainable exploitation of microbial resources. At the Ghana workshop it was agreed that it was necessary to better understand the hurdles in the chain from isolation to the market and determine whether the Brazilian experience could facilitate the process in Africa. Kenya is in the process of developing bioscience regulation and implementing plans to establish facilities for biodiversity conservation and use. In preparation for this, capacity and strategy are needed to harness local microbial diversity.