WHILE South Africa has long grown genetically modified crops, resistance from across most of the continent is set to slow global plans to turn Africa into the world’s breadbasket. Just four countries on the continent — South Africa, Egypt, Burkina Faso and Sudan — allow GM crops to be grown commercially. As recently as 2008, South Africa was the only African country to commercially cultivate GM crops such as maize, soya beans and cotton.
In that year Egypt joined in, with a limited amount of GM maize cultivated. Burkina Faso allowed GM cotton to be grown and last year Sudan followed in cultivating the non food crop.
Most of the unused land available for farming is in Africa, casting the continent in the role of “ saviour” for a world which has to double food production by 2050 to feed a population projected to grow to more than 9-billion.
South Africa grows about 3-million hectares of GM crops. The areas planted in the other three African countries are negligible. However, there are signs that the situation might change. Cameroon, Kenya, Malawi, Ghana and Uganda have approved confined trials of GM crops, and Nigeria has a bill to relax laws about GM crops awaiting approval.
Jannie de Villiers, chairman of grain producers’ body Grain SA, said last week GM food is an integral part of South Africa’s food security policy. “The rest of Africa is not positive about growing GM food, though they don’t mind eating it. The problem is that the calculated potential of the area that is available for maize growing in Africa is based on higher-yielding GM crops.”
Multinational DuPont Pioneer, which last week completed the acquisition of 80 percent of South African seed company Pannar, makes no secret of its views on Africa as a future world breadbasket. However, it denies it is lobbying African governments to change their policies on GM crops.
Vice-president Dan Jacobi said the company “works to partner with African governments to develop open, consistent science-based regulatory systems that allow cross-border shipping of high-quality hybrid seed”.
He insisted that the company is “comfortable” with African resistance to GM crops, though he added that it means “farmers can double, triple or quadruple their yields”.
“We advise farmers but do not dictate to them,” Mr Jacobi said. “We think GM is one tool in the toolbox.” The company’s R62m technology hub network centred in Delmas would make a big difference in providing “stress-tolerant hybrid” seeds to the market.
Political and economic pressures play a big role in maintaining the status quo in Africa regarding GM crops.
Chance Kabaye, director of Zambia’s Indaba Agricultural Policy Research Institute and a former agriculture minister, recalled former president Levy Mwanawasa saying GM would be allowed in Zambia “over my dead body”. Mr Kabaye told the Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy in Pretoria that Mr Mwanawasa “was uncertain about it at the time and made what he regarded as a popular statement.
“But, anyway, he is dead now . . .” Mr Mwanawasa died in 2008.
The biggest hurdle for African countries to negotiate in the GM question is possible sanctions from their biggest agricultural export market, the European Union (EU). — BDLive
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