Building a Science and Technology Bridge to a Brighter Future
Published: Monday, 23 Apr 2012
Karim Maredia, a professor of entomology at Michigan State University, has earned a reputation for his ability to utilize new science and technology to bridge the gap between the healthiest, wealthiest nations and developing nations.
For instance, with many African nations struggling with food and nutritional security issues, MSU’s World Technology Access Program (WorldTAP) and Maredia, as WorldTAP’s director, were called upon to help address the problem through a biotechnology project funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
And, when the need arose for better pest-management controls in Central Asia — a region suffering from an overuse of pesticides and limited crop diversity — WorldTAP, under Maredia’s guidance, was chosen to lead a federally-funded integrated pest management project.
“One of the strengths that helped us earn these grants,” said Maredia, “is our strong domestic and international networks and our commitment to work side by side with our partners on the ground to solve real problems.”
According to Maredia, it’s these capacity-building partnerships that are drawing the attention of federal agencies, as well as organizations like the Gates Foundation. “They recognized that we share a goal of harnessing science and technology to address serious food security issues around the world,” he said.
Maredia’s leadership and his ability to build strong partnerships while working with country-led plans makes him a popular choice to lead biotechnology projects that aid people worldwide. He has devoted his career to building bonds between international researchers, building human resources to aid those in need, and offering his expertise and advice to enable others to learn about science and technology and to share in its benefits.
As director of WorldTAP, Maredia has provided international short courses, training sessions and collaborative programs for participants from around the world, sometimes bringing them to MSU and other times going to them. Technology transfer and intellectual property rights, food safety, biosafety, biofuels, and integrated pest management are just a few of the courses that WorldTAP offers.
Modestly, Maredia says only that the work “fits perfectly with my own career goals and mission of sharing the knowledge and building global knowledge partnerships, so I’m very happy to be part of this program.”
The $10.4 million grant from the Gates Foundation links MSU with the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) to create an African Biosafety Network of Expertise
(ABNE). NEPAD, a socioeconomic development program of the African Union, stimulates Africa’s development by filling gaps in agriculture, health, education, infrastructure, science and technology.
Biotechnology has enormous potential to improve agricultural productivity and food production in Africa. With a population now exceeding one billion people and plagued by droughts that have created food shortages for many, Africa has a growing demand for food that is more plentiful, nutritious and healthy. Biotechnology is a new tool that can provide those benefits.
Biotechnology can make crops resistant to insects, diseases, drought, salinity and other environmental stresses or make crops more nutritious by increasing their amounts of micronutrients such as beta-carotene or Vitamin A for example. The Gates Foundation grant will create a continent-wide, science-based network that will enable African regulators to receive training and technical support. Throughout the process, functional regulatory systems will be developed to manage the environmental, health, legal and socioeconomic aspects of biotechnology.
“This technology can provide tremendous benefits, but also there are some concerns raised about its impact on the environment, human health, biodiversity and so on,” Maredia said. “The ultimate beneficiaries of the project will be the farmers and the millions of people in Africa, but these new technologies need to be regulated to ensure that they are safe.”
Therefore, the focus of the ABNE program is on African regulators — the government officials, members of the national biosafety committees, members of the institutional biosafety committees and plant quarantine officers. These are the groups of officials that review applications for new biotechnology products and make a collective decision on whether or not this technology moves forward.
“Our focus is going to be primarily on empowering the regulators by providing them with information, up-to-date training and tools that they can use, so that they can make science based, more informed decisions,” Maredia said.
The federally-funded project that Maredia is leading to address the need for better pest management controls in Central Asia involves coordinating the work of a consortium, which includes researchers from Central Asia, Michigan State University, University of California-Davis, Kansas State University, and three international agricultural research centers.
“We will use integrated pest-management practices for Central Asia’s key food security crops — wheat, potatoes and tomatoes,” Maredia said.
Maredia attended last year’s World Food Prize Symposium, where philanthropist Bill Gates gave the keynote address. Afterward, Maredia had the opportunity to meet Gates.
“I thanked him, of course,” Maredia said. “The Gates Foundation’s commitment to eliminating poverty is inspiring.”
Also inspiring is Maredia’s commitment to bringing science and technology to those who most need its benefits.