GM on the rise in Africa

Africa faces increasing pressure to grow more food Copyright: Flickr/vagawi

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With Africa under pressure to produce more food for its growing population, more countries across the continent are likely to start growing genetically modified (GM) crops, says an article in Reuters.

Africa has lagged behind other regions in the adoption of GM technology. In addition to the usual debates about the effects of GM on health and the environment, says the article, there have been concerns about the impact of GM crops on export opportunities. The high price of GM crops has also proven a challenge for small farmers.

But now "there is increasing support to test biotech in several African countries," said Diran Makinde, director of the African Biosafety Network of Expertise.

South Africa was the continent’s sole cultivator of GM maize, cotton and soya beans until 2008, when Egypt began cultivating GM maize and Burkina Faso started growing GM cotton, says Reuters. Now Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe are conducting research and field trials of GM crops, including maize, rice, wheat, sorghum and cotton, in what could be steps towards adoption.

Kenya may lead the way, looking to conduct open trials of GM crops this year after enacting biosafety regulations. Industry officials expect the draft regulations to be published in May.

"Kenya will be open to cultivating GM crops. I can assure you Kenya will be the fourth county to allow GMO [GM organisms]," said Felix Mmboyi, deputy director of Africa Biotechnology, who added that other countries were keenly watching Kenya, where GM imports have been a controversial issue.

Countries such as Malawi, Mauritius, South Africa and Zimbabwe have enacted biosafety laws, removing a major obstacle to adoption. Most other African governments are also drafting guidelines and regulations

However, some 23 countries have biosafety laws with strict liability clauses which make someone liable for any mishaps without the need to prove any fault on their part. "No private sector will invest in a country where they can be sued for the slightest or even imaginary damage. This is a no-go area for the biotech crop developer," said Makinde

A report from the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) showed an 87-fold increase in GM crop area globally between 1996 and 2010, making biotech crops the fastest adopted crop technology in the history of modern agriculture.