21 July 2014

Africa's GM-Phobia Hinders Agricultural Development - Report

Photo: Flickr
Young maize growing on a farm in the Drakensberg, Natal, South Africa.

The "dysfunctional" debate surrounding genetically modified crops is stifling agricultural development in Africa, experts said on Monday.

According to a new report published by the London-based think tank Chatham House, continual field trials have resulted in a "convenient deadlock".

Governments appease supporters of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) by accommodating their research, yet also placate opponents because no new technology actually gains final approval.

The report noted that genetic modification (GM) is seen as highly controversial in the wider public debate, but less so by scientists and donors.

Only three sub-Saharan countries - Burkina Faso, Sudan and South Africa - have commercialised GM crop varieties, which were initially developed for American rather than African farmers.

Markets in Africa are far smaller than those in European and North America, reducing incentives for agricultural innovation, the report said.

There is also a lack of technical expertise, and access to credit is limited. This makes it tough to implement long-term policies.


Those who wish to see GMOs used more widely in Africa must be politically astute and focus on a few "best-bet" countries, report authors Rob Bailey, Robin Willoughby and David Grzywacz suggested.

The wider context is "typified by misinformation, polarised public discourse and dysfunctional and opportunistic politics", they added.

Kenya banned GMO imports in 2012 following a study linking GM maize to cancer. It was retracted the following year, and farmers have since called for the reintroduction of GMOs to help solve climate-linked food crises.

The first GM crops grown in India, Bt cotton seeds, were illegal at the time. However approval followed soon after, and Bt varieties have now been adopted by over 90 percent of India's cotton farmers.

Monday's report argued a similar situation could arise in Africa if a GM seed emerges that sufficiently mobilises demand among farmers, pushing them to share it even without regulatory approval.

Editing by Ros Russell and Megan Rowling: megan.rowling@thomsonreuters.com

Copyright © 2014 AlertNet. All rights reserved. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com). To contact the copyright holder directly for corrections — or for permission to republish or make other authorized use of this material, click here.

AllAfrica publishes around 2,000 reports a day from more than 130 news organizations and over 200 other institutions and individuals, representing a diversity of positions on every topic. We publish news and views ranging from vigorous opponents of governments to government publications and spokespersons. Publishers named above each report are responsible for their own content, which AllAfrica does not have the legal right to edit or correct.

Articles and commentaries that identify allAfrica.com as the publisher are produced or commissioned by AllAfrica. To address comments or complaints, please Contact us.