GMOs in Sub-Saharan Africa – What you need to know

Several African countries have adopted genetically modified (GM) agriculture and this number is expected to increase in the future.

But to what extent should genetically modified organisms (GMOs) shape the future of agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa? Joseph Maina explains.

Many of us have heard of genetically modified (GM) crops and how they are transforming agricultural production around the world. Here in Africa, several countries have adopted GM agriculture and this number is expected to increase in the future.

But what exactly are genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and to what extent are they expected to shape the future of agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa? Where is SSA in GM agriculture, and how has the region benefited? Below is a catalog of points to help us better understand the roles and impact of GMOs in the region.

What are GMOs?

A genetically modified organism (GMO) is any organism whose genetic material has been modified using genetic engineering techniques. It can be an animal, a plant or a microbe. These are most often organisms – often plants – that have been modified to achieve desired characteristics, such as drought tolerance and pest resistance, using recombinant DNA or engineering techniques. genetic.

Why are GM crops created?

It is important to note that biotechnology tools are used when the desired traits cannot be obtained through conventional plant breeding.

Are GM foods safe?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), GM foods currently available on the international market have passed safety assessments and are not likely to pose risks to human health.

There have been no adverse human health effects resulting from the consumption of these foods by the general population in countries where they have been approved. The safety of genetically modified foods is ensured through the continued application of safety assessments which include adequate post-marketing surveillance.

What are the benefits of growing genetically modified plants?

Farmers who grow GMO staple crops, such as soybeans and corn, till less, reducing topsoil loss, erosion, and associated fertilizer runoff. They can also grow pest-resistant GMO crops, such as Bt cotton, maize, cowpea and eggplant, with far fewer pesticide applications, which benefits human and environmental health. Smallholder farmers, in particular, often report higher profits from GM crops due to higher yields and lower expenditures on inputs such as pesticides and fertilizers. On average, GM crops reduced the use of chemical pesticides by 37%, increased crop yields by 22% and increased farmers’ profits by 68%. GM crops have also reduced CO2 emissions (mainly through no-till farming practices) by 27 billion kg, equivalent to taking 12 million cars off the road for one year (Qaim et al. 2014).

Are GMOs suitable for Africa?

Today, many GMO crops are bred in African countries by public sector scientists working to improve the nutritional content and viability of staple food crops essential to their region, such as cassava, pulses , mustard, potatoes, rice and bananas. Smallholders typically grow these crops to feed their families.

How have African farmers benefited from GMOs?

Farmers growing GMOs have achieved increased yields, reduced production costs and losses, and higher incomes.

Are there any GM crops that have been approved in sub-Saharan Africa?

Yes, a number of GM crops are already being produced in Ethiopia, Nigeria, Sudan, Kenya, Eswatini and South Africa. These include

  • Insect resistant cowpea (Bt)
  • TELA maize resistant to insects and drought
  • Corn resistant to insects, drought and herbicides
  • drought resistant corn
  • Drought Tolerant Canola
  • Herbicide Tolerant Canola
  • Herbicide tolerant soybeans
  • Herbicide resistant rice
  • Insect Resistant Cotton (Bt)
  • Insect and herbicide resistant cotton

Which GMOs are developed in sub-Saharan Africa?

A number of SSA countries are involved in research that should provide additional GM crops. These projects have the potential to provide improved crops with better nutritional value, increased resistance to pests and diseases, and better tolerance to salt and drought. The crops are being researched and developed in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda. These include:

  • Cassava resistant to mosaic virus and brown line virus
  • Virus Resistant Cassava for Africa (VIRCA)
  • Cassava enriched with vitamins
  • Banana enriched with vitamin A and resistant to bacterial wilt
  • Late blight resistant potato
  • drought resistant corn
  • TELA corn is drought tolerant and insect resistant
  • Water-efficient maize for Africa (drought-tolerant GMOs and conventional varieties)
  • Nitrogen-saving, water-saving and salt-tolerant rice (NEWEST)
  • Sorghum fortified with vitamin A
  • Sweet Potatoes Enriched with Vitamin A
  • Virus Resistant Sweet Potatoes

Do countries control GMOs within their jurisdiction?

Each nation exercises sovereign control over GMOs. They decide which GMOs can be developed and distributed to farmers, as well as which GM seeds and consumer products can be imported. Each country has the ability to establish its own biosafety regulatory agency to oversee GMOs and to make its own laws governing their use.

Do farmers participate in research on GMOs?

Yes, GMOs are developed in collaboration with farmers, who share information about traits they would like to see added to crops. They also participate in field trials to test the effectiveness of genetically modified traits in a wide range of agricultural environments.

Is it easy for African farmers to access GMO seeds?

Each country manages its own production and distribution of GMO seeds, mainly using local seed companies. Farmers can only access GM seeds that have been approved for commercial use by their government. Some GM crops are patented, so farmers are supposed to pay for these seeds, just as they currently pay for hybrid varieties. Other crops developed by the public sector are royalty-free and made available to farmers for free or at low cost. Some GMO seeds can be effectively conserved. Others must be purchased new each year, such as hybrids, to ensure the vigor of their traits. Either way, farmers choose what they want to plant.

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