GM crops are here to stay; why should only Africa lose out?

Tuesday October 18 2016

Dr Francis Nang’ayo

Dr Francis Nang’ayo 

By Francis Nang’ayo

Genetically modified crops were first approved for commercial cultivation in 1995-96. Since then, the acreage under the crops has increased from 1.7 million hectares in six countries, to an estimated 179.7 million hectares in 28 countries worldwide in 2015 – an over hundredfold increase in adoption of GM.

In 2015 alone, the global market value of biotech crops was $15.3 billion, accounting for 20 per cent of the global crop market, and 34 per cent of the global commercial seed market.

Whereas farmers, mostly smallholder farmers, in some developing countries are commercially growing GM crops, Africa has taken a much more cautious approach, ranging from policy restrictions of various kinds to outright bans.

Consequently, the world’s second largest continent with 55 states inhabited by an estimated 1.2 billion people accounts for the lowest adoption of the world’s GM crops – 2.3 per cent – grown by just three countries: South Africa with maize, soyabean and cotton; Burkina Faso and Sudan with cotton.

This is ironic, considering that so many countries in sub-Saharan Africa have been struggling for decades with unsolved farm productivity problems some of which could be addressed through GM technology.

The 55 African states are characterised by a mosaic of national policy positions on GM technology, ranging from those that can be considered to be permissive to those which are more cautious and ultimately those that are hostile to the adoption of GM crops.

Kenya, for instance, started off with a precautionary policy position when it signed the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety in 2000 and subsequently ratified it in 2003. The Protocol is an international legal instrument for ensuring adequate levels of protection in all activities involving GMOs.

To comply with its obligations as a contracting party to the Protocol, Kenya implemented a raft of measures including adoption of the National Biotechnology Development Policy in 2006, the enactment of the Biosafety Act in 2009 and the establishment of the National Biosafety Authority in 2010. This regulatory framework appeared to facilitate research and development activities on GMOs while ensuring that all these activities proceeded safely and responsibly.

But with all these progressive steps having been taken to establish one of the most robust regulatory frameworks