9 February 2023, NAIROBI, KENYA — The Science for Africa Foundation (SFA Foundation) and the African BioGenome Project (AfricaBP) are partnering to advance scientific approaches to safeguard Africa’s biodiversity through genomics
Africa is home to the world’s mega biodiversity hotspots, and it is currently experiencing an unprecedented loss of its biodiversity due to human overexploitation and environmental degradation which is resulting to decline of its plants and animals with an estimated loss of 50% of Africa’s bird and mammal species, and 20-30% of loss productivity by the end of the century.
The Science for Africa (SFA) Foundation has partnered with the African BioGenome Project (AfricaBP) to safeguard Africa’s biodiversity through genomics. This partnership is detailed in an agreement to be signed in due course and creates the Alliance for Biodiversity Genomics in Africa. The SFA Foundation will operate this Alliance on behalf of the AfricaBP and SFA Foundation, and AfricaBP will be branded as a special programme within the SFA Foundation, to accelerate the use of genomic-based technologies to safeguard Africa’s biodiversity and ensure its equitable and sustainable use.
SFA Foundation is a pan-African, nonprofit and public charity organisation that supports, strengthens, and promotes science and innovation in Africa and serves the African research ecosystem by funding excellent ideas in research and innovation; enabling interdisciplinary collaborations and building and reinforcing environments that are conducive for scientists to thrive and produce quality research that generates new, locally relevant knowledge. AfricaBP is a coordinated pan-African effort created in 2019 to build capacity, and infrastructure, to generate, analyse and deploy genomics data for the improvement and sustainable use of biodiversity and agriculture across Africa. AfricaBP has defined goals and assembled over 100 African scientists across more than 30 African countries and organisations.
“In addition to preserving the intrinsic value of the continent’s species, protecting Africa’s biodiversity is paramount for the survival of current and future generations as, from it, we derive our livelihoods, sustain our agricultural productivity to ensure our food security and protect the air we breathe and our cultural identities. Without our biodiversity, we cannot have a healthy and prosperous Africa. We will lose our sense of self and will compromise efforts to meet the Sustainable Development Goals particularly, SDG 15, that seeks to sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss,” says Prof Thomas Kariuki, Executive Director, Science for Africa (SFA) Foundation.
SFA Foundation’s major role will be in governance, oversight, operations, programmatic and grant management including key activities for programme coordination, fundraising, partnership building, policy engagement, promoting publications through the Open Research Africa gateway and investigating other opportunities to deliver on the long-term vision of advancing genomics research in Africa. SFA’s Foundation brings the experience of a seven-year partnership with the Human Heredity and Health in Africa (H3Africa) network that has achieved major milestones in the development of research on human and pathogen genomics in Africa. The lessons learned will be valuable to the Alliance for Biodiversity Genomics in Africa. Additionally, the SFA Foundation will create a mentorship and career development support programme for AfricaBP’s early career research scientists as they work towards achieving AfricaBP’s goals.
“The formation of the Alliance for Biodiversity Genomics in Africa is timely. This Alliance will strengthen Africa’s ability to deliver on the goals of the Convention on Biological Diversity as well as the recently adopted Post-2020 Biodiversity Framework, especially on genetic diversity and Digital Sequence Information. It will enable African countries achieve three of the developmental goals in the African Union Agenda 2063: Increased agricultural productivity, and ocean and ecologically sustainable economies. Through this Alliance we aim to bring biodiversity genomics and bioinformatics practises closer to the African people whilst linking it to local biodiversity knowledge”, says Dr ThankGod Echezona Ebenezer, Founder of the African BioGenome Project and a Bioinformatician at the European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI), UK.
AfricaBP’s role is to support the technical and scientific work on biodiversity genomics across Africa including capacity building, workshops, and organising the Annual African Congress on Biodiversity Genomics. With SFA Foundation’s support in programme management, AfricaBP aims to sequence the genomes of 105,000 endemic African species – plants, animals, fungi, protists, and other eukaryotes. This genomic data will inform conservation efforts and sustainable use of biodiversity and agriculture across Africa.
“The partnership between SFA Foundation and AfricaBP will build on the strengths of both institutions which will advance the science of biodiversity genomics in Africa, ensuring that many African scientists are involved in conservation and preservation of the biological species that are most important to them“, adds Professor Anne Muigai, current Chair of AfricaBP and Professor of Genetics at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, Kenya.
AfricaBP has made sustainable gains, including securing approval from the Nelson Mandela Foundation to set up the Nelson Mandela Genomes Initiative for Conservation of Nature and receiving an initial grant from the University of South Africa to implement it. This includes sequencing the genomes of two endemic African species with 10+ in the pipeline for sequencing; setting up the AfricaBP Open Institute for Genomics and Bioinformatics; and presenting in key continental and global meetings including an African Union meeting on the establishment of gene banks in Zambia in June 2022, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) 77th Session in New York and the US Africa Leaders’ Summit in 2022.
“We are excited for the work that AfricaBP has achieved since 2019. We’ve built a community of practise including early career scientists, mid-career scientists, and senior academics in Africa and beyond. We’ve engaged with genomics technology companies and service providers in Africa and globally, and we hope that these partnerships will strengthen the delivery of the objectives that we have set for the Alliance for Biodiversity Genomics in Africa”, says Professor Appolinaire Djikeng, Director of the Centre for Tropical Livestock Genetics and Health, University of Edinburgh, and co-founder of AfricaBP (and incoming Director General of the International Livestock Research Institute – ILRI).
The Alliance for Biodiversity Genomics in Africa presents an opportunity to factor in genetic diversity that are required to improve biological diversity, including marine biodiversity espoused in the African Union’s Agenda 2063; for creating an operating ecosystem for African researchers to prosper and become globally competitive in biodiversity genomics; and for African countries to build the required capacities to benefit from the Convention on Biological Diversity’s Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, a set of principles aimed to safeguard at least 90% of the world’s global biodiversity by 2030.
Judy Omumbo | SFA Foundation Senior Programme Manager | email@example.com
Deborah-Fay Ndlovu | SFA Foundation Communication Manager | firstname.lastname@example.org
ThankGod Echezona Ebenezer | Co-Chair, African BioGenome Project | email@example.com