Due to the fairly new introduction of genetically modified organisms into the agricultural world in 1996, there have been many advocates alongside contrasting skeptics for the use of them. In an article written by Arthur GD published in the African Journal of Biotechnology (2011) there is a complete description of the benefits and doubts of introducing and continuing the use of genetically modified crops (GMC) in Africa. Many of the doubts are brought up by the different governments and many of the benefits are seen by scientists and others associated with the African Journal of Biotechology who have sought to find out whether GMCs are truly as beneficial or as dangerous as some claim. The concerns are social, ethical, health, financial and political. Within these concerns there are even deeper concerns of bio-terrorism and loss of biodiversity. The question that comes with this article is if the pros of biotechnology, such as higher crop yield, increased rates of employment, and annual incomes, will outweigh these potential cons. Although GMCs are currently used in only eight African countries, GD seeks to explore to the possibility of expansion into more countries for a higher crop yield, specifically for those reliant on farming for their livelihood, which consists of a third of the African continent.¾Rachel Warburton
GD, A, 2011., Benefits and concerns surrounding the cultivation of genetically modified crops in Africa: The debate, African Journal of Biotechnology 10, 1-9
Kullaya, A., 2005, Biotechnology and its potential role in contributing to socio-economic development in Tanzania. Pg 3-5
Asante, DKA., 2008, Genetically Modified Food, the dilemna of Africa, African Journal of Biotechnology 7: 1204-1211
GD begins by explaining why there is a need for the use of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in Africa. Specifically in Sub-Saharan Africa there is an increasing amount of food insecurity, lack of food distribution,and lower crop yields due to economic, environmental, and social reasons. Some countries experience unfortunate soil composition, drought, financial restraints, and lack of resources to successfully invest in traditional agricultural methods. GD sees the implementation of GMOs the perfect solution to cure these problems, either temporarily or long term. Many sub-Saharan countries have been reluctant to invest because of the myriad of concerns circulating along with the shortage of funding research on the subject matter and lack of policy making. While some countries, such as Zambia, are creating organizations such as the National Biosafety and Biotechnology Strategy Plan to regulate plants, Namibia and a few other countries have cut off all ties with countries who are included in the GM revolution.
The amount of Africans living below the global poverty line ( $1 per day) has increased by more than 50% and more than 1/3 of the continent suffers from famine daily. Low rainfall is attributing to infertile land and increase of pests. Global warming is assisting in more droughts worldwide. For all of these reasons, GD sees GMOs as one of the only approaches to confront all of these issues. According to Kullaya (2005), biotechnology can be used to assess the integrity of ecosystems and even has the possibility to turn pollutants within the ecosystem to mere benign substances. There is also the creation of nitrogen fixing and bioconverting GMOs. Nitrogen fixing would strengthen the soil with the insertion of more nitrogen and bioconversion converts organic materials such as plant or animal waste into usable energy sources, which could also fix a portion of the worldwide waste-disposal problem.
Pests and viruses have been known to be one of the major limiting factors within African food production but this too could potentially be solved or weakened by GMOs. Currently the most widely used GM technology involve herbicide tolerance, such as Bt corn, but more research is going into making crops not only more virus intolerant but also adding nutritional value to crops in order to confront the large problem of malnutrition in Africa. In this effort they have created the African Biofortified Sorghum Project, which would increase the amount of protein and other micronutrients in sorghum through genetic engineering. This would then hopefully decrease the amount of malnutrition, specifically in children. They have also created a strain of “golden” rice with higher levels of betacarotene using this same approach.
The article looks a lot to Argentina as a reference of a successful country taking on GMOs. In Argentina, the first GM crop, a glyphosate-tolerant soybean helped the economy and social structure of Argentinian agriculture exponentially. Due to increasing concerns of the adverse effects of GMOs, many African countries are hesitant to follow Argentina’s lead.
As mentioned before, only eight of the forty-seven countries in Africa currently allow GM crops and included in the article is a table including some of those countries, such as Egypt, Kenya, South Africa and Zimbabwe. There is another table that looks at the 11 countries with biotechnology research projects going on between livestock, forestry and crops.
Before concluding, the article lists out the specific concerns being raised about biotechnology, specifically in Africa. One of the biggest concerns is the increase of bioterrorism. Bioterrorism is the intentional release of biological agents including bacteria, viruses, and toxins. Since GMOs are essentially dealing with implementing some of these agents into crops, animals or plants, there is a certain risk that something could be spread commercially and serve as a bio-weapon. GD’s resolution to this social issue is regulation and GM labeling, giving the consumer an option and educating them on what the product contains. Another concern stated is the obvious one of the possible adverse health effects such as increased allergies, intestinal issues with the bacteria and reproductive health. According to Asante (2008) eating GM foods does have the ability to change the genetic make-up of one’s digestive system. Ethical concerns are raised as well, questioning whether it is right to “play God” by transforming plants and animals in abnormal ways along with dominating the earth in such an unnatural manner.
GD counters many of these concerns with the idea of increased regulation along with increased education worldwide on the subject matter. He sees the utilization of GM crops as a powerful step in the direction of food increase, which would then give the many sustenance farmers a better life and those malnourished in these countries more options.