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New UN report calls for technology research to help tackle Africa's challenges

New UN report calls for technology research to help tackle Africa's challenges

If effectively harnessed to tackle Africa's specific challenges, emerging technologies can help the continent by cutting the incidence of disease, food insecurity, and vulnerability to environmental damage, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) said today.

Previewing a report that will be officially launched at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), which opens in Johannesburg, South Africa, on Monday, the ECA also cautioned that the expected benefits of both medical and agricultural biotechnology can only be realized if a number of key challenges related to their adaptability in Africa are addressed.

Biotechnology should be viewed as one part of a comprehensive, sustainable poverty reduction strategy, and not as a technological "quick fix" for the continent's hunger and poverty problems, according to the report, Harnessing Technologies for Sustainable Development. At the same time, the ECA notes that Africa stands to benefit from any technology that can increase the production of food, enhance its nutritional quality, and minimize the exploitation of forests and marginal lands.

With breakthroughs in medical biotechnology revolutionizing the prevention, diagnosis, management, treatment and cure of diseases, the report argues that "the biggest risk for Africa would be to do nothing and let the biotechnology revolution bypass the continent."

But the new technologies are no panacea, the report points out, noting that most African countries are not well equipped to address the potential risks of these technologies to human and animal health, and to the environment.

Reaping the full benefit of the technological revolution will require critical planning and strategic investments, the report says, calling for the promotion of African-focused biotechnology research which emphasizes the diseases and their strains prevalent on the continent, particularly HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. With African countries currently investing less than 2 per cent of their total agricultural research funds in biotechnology, the report recommends increased spending on modern biotechnology research.