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Africa's GM-phobia hinders agricultural development - report

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Mon, 21 Jul 2014 17:06 GMT
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Zimbabwean women harvest maize from a field in a peri-urban suburb of Mabvuku in Harare, April 10, 2014. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo
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LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - 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.

MISINFORMATION

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 It was retracted the following year, and farmers have since called for the reintroduction of GMOs to help solve climate-linked food crises.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)

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