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Food crisis whets EA’s appetite for GM crops

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By Charles Kazooba and Halima Abdallah

Posted  Monday, May 25  2009 at  00:00
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Worsening cereal production worldwide is swaying African countries to genetically modified crops.

Research concluded last December shows that in developing countries — excluding Brazil, China and India — cereal production has fallen by 1.6 per cent. This has worsened the global food prices and posted a deeper shock to world economies.

Many African countries are now switching from organic to GM crop production, which research says increases yields in a shorter period.

A survey by the International Food Policy Research Institute warns that prices of major cereals will increase significantly, possibly triggering a bigger food crisis.

Experts say in 2020, maize, wheat, and rice prices will be 27, 15 and 13 per cent higher, respectively. As a result of the recession, the poor are likely to have less food.

“In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, per capita calorie consumption will be 10 per cent lower in 2020. Globally, 16 million more children will be malnourished in 2020,” the survey says.

In East Africa, the Uganda government approved use of biotechnology in 2008. Laboratory trials on cotton are going on at a national research centre in Soroti to develop pest resistant varieties and increase cotton volumes.

Farmers have embraced the idea and shown willingness to adopt the techniques for commercial production.

A household survey conducted recently shows that 151 producers, 35 in Lira and 116 in Kasese, approved the use of biotechnology.

“The government approached this technology cautiously, despite appreciating that it increases productivity. We are very cautious not to compromise local production,” says Minister for Animal Industry Bright Rwamirama. He was addressing the press last week after the opening of a biotechnology conference in Entebbe.

The conference brought together scientists from all over the world to discuss the implications of GM crops on African farmers.

Kenya has likewise said it will start commercial GM crop production in two years.

“We are in our fourth year of trials. The experiments are very positive. We are waiting for approval from the Kenya Agricultural Institute to go commercial,” said Kinyua M’Mbijjewe, the corporate affairs director (Africa) for Monsanto.

Both Kenya and Uganda are experiencing food shortages, especially of cereals which require scientific intervention to increase production. A study of 13 public institutions in Kenya, Zimbabwe, Egypt and South Africa shows that biotechnology has been applied on 21 crops, with good results. Advantages include increased production and pest resistance.

Burkina Faso, for instance, will plant 300,000 hectares of Bt cotton this year. Scientists say the country could be the largest exporter of cotton in Africa, beating Uganda which has been the leading exporter of organic cotton.

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