Malawian policy analyst Vitumbiko Chinoko has carved out a reputation for driving hard bargains on critical issues facing sub-Saharan Africa, such as food and nutritional insecurity and climate change.
His career has included pushing the advocacy envelope for climate change adaptation and disaster risk financing. Chinoko has also established substantive and innovative multi-sector nutrition investment baselines for Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Malawi and Burundi, among others.
“There has always been one common denominator in my work, which is to leave communities I work with better than I found them, in terms of food security, climate resilience, but more importantly, in terms of government responses to their issues,” Chinoko said.
Now, in his new position as Project Manager of the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology in Africa (OFAB), Chinoko contends that sub-Saharan Africa’s already dismal food and nutrition security status will be further exacerbated unless sustainable strategies and agricultural technologies for safeguarding and ensuring food and nutritional security are mapped out and implemented.
“Nutrition and food vulnerabilities are a critical constraint to economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa,” said Chinoko, who holds a Master’s in Business Administration from the Management College of Southern Africa (MANCOSA) and is currently pursuing a doctorate degree in climate change adaptation at the University of Nairobi. “The region will continue to be the most stunted unless national governments pull out all the stops to facilitate their citizens’ access to tools that will allow them to meet their food and nutritional requirements. Poor health outcomes and mediocre labor productivity can never be good bets for fledgling and poor economies like those in the sub-region.”
In his new role at OFAB, Chinoko plans to “sustain the rapport already established with partners and will oversee and coordinate engagements with different stakeholders — civil society, policymakers and scientists — in the sub-region on the need to fast track and implement agriculture biotechnology interventions. While the workspaces are different, I see a lot of opportunities to bring my past experiences into my new role. I hope to keep in harness with my advocacy work and there is every chance for success.”
A seasoned climate change negotiator, Chinoko cautions that the sub-region will need to do more to raise awareness about climate change, as well as scale up investments to support climate change risk management and adaptation programs and interventions.
“Through the years, efforts aimed at tackling climate change at the sub-regional level have come up short, yet the aftershocks of climate change, like rising food prices and plummeting staple crop yields, have continued to rear their ugly heads, much to the detriment of many poor and vulnerable smallholder farming households,” he observed.
With several feathers in his cap from his years working as an advocate for climate emergencies, climate change risk insurance, nutrition investment and other initiatives for organizations such as ACT Alliance, Christian Aid and CARE USA, Chinoko is confident he will bring change to OFAB. For the past 16 years, the organization has supported smallholder African farmers in their quest to access the best agricultural technology as a means of improving productivity and achieving better livelihoods and lives.
Over the years, several peer-reviewed studies have shown that agricultural biotechnologies have the potential to significantly advance the economic development of sub-Saharan Africa.
“Better access to agricultural technologies will contribute to the attainment of several sustainable development goals, especially goals relating to ending poverty in all its forms, ensuring zero hunger and combating climate change and its impacts,” Chinoko said.
“To a degree, climate change adaptation strategies such as conservation agriculture, agro-forestry and the use of drought-resistant crop varieties have occasioned some changes,” he added. “But those changes have not been sufficient because the sub-region, on the whole, remains food insecure. Radical interventions, specifically the incorporation of new agriculture technologies and climate change risk insurance into the sub region’s climate change adaptation framework, will be needed to rein in the high prevalence of food and nutrition insecurity in a region whose population growth rate surges every year.”
Chinoko believes it is high time that enabling spaces and environments for agricultural biotechnology are created in the sub-region as well on the continent in general.
“Those enabling environments would have to extend to commercialization, since it is one of the ways that farmers can practically experience agricultural biotechnologies,” he explained.
At issue for many food security experts in sub-Saharan Africa, including Chinoko, is the region’s spiraling food import bill, which now tops US$43 billion annually, according to the Brookings Institute.
“That the sub-region has to contend with such a high food import bill is sad,” he said. “In my estimation, not enough questions are being asked as to why and how the sub-region still imports food. There are different entities that substantially benefit from Africa being food insecure. Now, however, is the time to salvage that money through the adoption of worthwhile agricultural biotechnologies, which will boost productivity in the sub region’s agriculture sector.”
In a region where fears and concerns about the safety and environmental consequences of biotechnology still abound, Chinoko reckons public education and raising awareness will ultimately be the game-changers.
“Through the years, lobbies that take exception to the application of agricultural biotechnologies in Africa have had a field day in creating fear in people’s minds, even when science says otherwise,” Chinoko said. “But it’s my contention that advocacy and consistent information will help eliminate the misconceptions and fears created. A critical mass of the sub-region’s smallholder farming third estate needs to know about the economic benefits that come with using improved crop varieties.”
Chinoko anticipates OFAB will expand over the years to support its growing advocacy and outreach effort.
“The goal is to broaden our operations to three more countries, to wit, Mozambique, Malawi and Rwanda, and to intently facilitate objective and constructive conservations at the very top level of African decision-making on agricultural technologies,” he said. “OFAB needs to start engaging at the African Union level. There is a need to have a global ambassador to represent Africa on agricultural biotechnology at the highest level.”