Enslaving Africans again

June 2019

In 2005, the Head of the Ethiopian Environment Protection Authority suggested that GM crops would, once more, enslave the people of Africa.  Instead of being transported as slaves to grow crops in America, they would be forced to grow America's crops in African soil.

Also recognised even then was that the issue of GM food safety is a much bigger question in Africa than in the developed world.  This is because chronically malnourished people will be more susceptible to any harmful effects from their food.  In the case of GM maize, in particular, account must be taken of the quantities likely to be consumed: maize may be eaten three times a day by African populations, while it forms no more than two per cent of the American diet.

Indeed, the biotech industry's new frontier in GM crop expansion does appear to be Africa, and does appear to be focusing on GM maize.

Industry promises are, our course, yield, yield, yield, with a feel-good refrain of help the poor, feed the hungry, and improve efficiency and farmer livelihoods.

But, what does the GM-based agricultural dream model really offer the people and states of Africa?

As the African Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) points out 
"Following over 20 years of GM crop cultivation in South Africa, there is no evidence that GM crops have improved on the levels of hunger and food insecurity which remain high, with an estimated 46% of households still going hungry every day".
Any notion of bigger yields from GM crops is belied by like-for-like comparisons of biotech crops in America and conventional ones in Europe (Heinemann), and the Indian experience of GM cotton [1].  A recent application for approval of three GM maize strains in South Africa claimed increased yields, yet presented data showing they were no better or sometimes worse than the comparator non-GM versions, and lower still when sprayed with the herbicides they were designed to tolerate.

On cost alone, the expensive seeds plus the expensive chemicals to go with them make GM crops inappropriate for the poor, and are socially divisive.  The water-hungry, high-tech crops with their requisite environment- and health-wrecking chemicals make GM unsustainable in Africa.

In the words of the ACB, GM crops "will further entrench the current ecologically unsustainable and socially unjust industrial food system, reinforcing corporate capture, control and consolidation and monopoly of our seed and food systems and pollute our food, bodies and lands with war chemical* ... GM industrial monoculture systems merely serve the purpose of producing profits for foreign multinationals".

What Africa needs are low cost technologies suited to small-holder farmers which "not only increase yields, but also offer holistic environmental solutions that increase biodiversity, protect against climate change and thus improve long-term resilience and environmental and human health"  (ACB).


The first need for Africa is to think outside the quick-fix, simplistic, one-size-fits all, technological box.  Modernisation means diversification, in particular a diversity of solutions to suit the diversity of local situations, not artificial chemicals and genes.  The sooner this happens, the sooner farmers will really achieve greater food production and distribution, and the sooner the hungry will be fed.

There are alternatives (see, for example [1] and [2]).  All it takes is the political will to make the resources available.

For an example of the GM crop reality in Africa, check out OFF-LOADING GM MAIZE IN SOUTH AFRICA - June 2019 (coming soon).

[2]  A HEALTHY CURE FOR CITRUS GREENING - June 2019 (coming soon)

*'War chemicals' refers to the herbicide 2,4-D which was an ingredient of the infamous Agent Orange used in Vietnam and now used on 2,4-D tolerant GM crops.
·         South Africa: Fierce opposition to Corteva's 2,4-D GM maize seed, GM Watch 18.04.19
·         Objection against general release of three 2,4-D GM maize varieties, African Centre for Biodiversity, April 2019

·         Jack A. Heinemann, et al., 2014, Sustainability and innovation in staple crop production in the US Midwest, International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability 12:1

Photo: Creative Commons

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