Africa – GMO Debate Reignited

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As a number of countries debate the use of GMO crops to address food security, others have stressed opposition to profit-driven agribusiness.

Recently, in August, Kenyan Vice-President William Ruto announced a move to lift a ban on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) imports by the end-of October, with a wide-ranging selection of Ministers supporting the move. GMO crops are now free to be field tested in the county with sites already set up at Kalro field stations.

Currently there are trials for a virus-resistant transgenic cassava at Alupe; a vitamin A-enhanced cassava at Alupe; biofortified sorghum at Kiboko and virus-resistant cassava at Mtwapa, explained the East African.

The Daily Nation reported that the decision to lift the ban has reignited the debate around GMO crops with farmers groups protesting across the country; one group, the Kenya Small-Scale Farmers has sought an order from the high court to reverse the decision. Some have even called for investigations into the funding for organisations involved in the sector.

Some scientists do see GMO crops as the answer to stark situations of food security across much of the ‘developing world’; the Kenya National Farmers Federation (Kenaff) stated that the country needed modern technology, of which GMOs are a part.

Kenaff CEO John Mutunga, said that such technology would need to be backed by sound scientific evidence, to dismiss claims that such crops cause adverse health impacts, and to remove the vested interested and donor-oriented policy that dominates the sector.

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Cassava Seed (CC)

Tanzania is also planning trials for a GMO Maize variety for April 2016 in Makutupora area of Dodoma, conducted by Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA), a public-private partnership led by Kenyan-based African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) and financed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The government recently revised its GMO laws to allow confined trials of maize and cassava, reported the East African.

Similarly the Director-General of the Nigerian National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA), Rufus Ebegba, has said that the safe application of modern biotechnology will trigger an agricultural revolution in Nigeria.

“Modern biotechnology has the huge potentials to enhance the agricultural sector, promote industrial growth, and the medical sector; and it can also be used for environmental sustainability; but our agency is not to promote modern biotechnology or its products but to ensure the safety because we are aware that this technology has that potential for adversity especially in the agricultural sector” he said, reported Leadership.

Only South Africa, Burkina Faso and Sudan have officially adopted GMO food on the African continent . However the recent and ongoing drought across much of Southern Africa – with five districts in South Africa declared disaster zones–  and the effects of the El Niño weather phenomenon more widely across sub-Saharan Africa, has raised the urgent need for inclusive solutions to the problem of food security, particularly for the very poorest.

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Sorghum Market Ethiopia (CC)

A 2013 report accused scientists of conducting research that favours seed companies; the study by Canadian Professor Matthew A Schnurr claimed that GMOs could jeopardise the livelihoods of local farmers by supplanting locally derived and often resilient seeds, for new supposedly high yielding varieties.

The research, entitled Biotechnology and bio-hegemony in Uganda: Unravelling the social relations underpinning the promotion of genetically modified crops into new African markets, was based on over 70 interviews in Uganda with research scientists, policy experts, lobbyists, and promotional organisations between 2009 and 2012.

In relation to GMO cotton, the report details that the crops are resistant to species of bollworm. However Schnurr claims that bollworm is of limited problem in Uganda, and the crops still continue to be affected by black arm disease and other pests. According to Schnurr the market is supply rather than demand driven, and BT Cotton finds a ‘solution to a non existent problem’, report the East African.

The report also throws doubts on the ability of farmers to pay for the new SureGrow 125, a cotton variety from the United States (US), with evidence from South Africa showing that farmers are paying 30-40% more for their seeds. The variety, which is suited to American climate and mechanised picking, may be unsuitable for the Ugandan context.

It is important that the aims of improving food security and livelihoods for the most vulnerable people do not get lost amidst the rhetoric of a profit-driven agricultural sector. GMOs are likely to be a useful resource in some contexts, but it is important to also remember the wide-variety of foodstuffs, non cash-crops, and farming activities undertaken as livelihood strategies across Africa, which have a tendency to be forgotten in the privileging of monoculture, cash-return GMO crops.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), on November 10th, launched its 2016 International Year of the Pulses, to “raise awareness about the protein power and health benefits of all kinds of dried beans and peas, boost their production and trade, and encourage new and smarter uses throughout the food chain”, reported the UN News Service.

“They have been an essential part of the human diet for centuries…yet, their nutritional value is not generally recognised and is frequently under-appreciated” said FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva.

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin

SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA: Growth Slows, Food Insecurity Rises 
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.52, Issue.9, Pp.20979A–20980C

CEREALS: Southern Africa
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.52, Issue.6, Pp.20896C–20897B

FOOD: FAO Report
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.52, Issue.2, Pp.20752A–20753A

Subscribe to the Africa Research Bulletin today.

 

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