Can Africa handle GM?

Position:GM INDUSTRY - Genetically modified crops

One of the biggest concerns raised by critics and enthusiasts for GM alike is that African countries do not have the capacity to "handle" GM. In other words, many African nations lack the robust regulatory environment and infra structure for wide-scale adoption of GM crops. "Seed companies are finding that countries lack the necessary regulatory framework to introduce GM," says Kinyua M'Mbijjewe, the head of corporate affairs in East Africa at the multinational seed company Syngenta. "There's no regulatory infrastructure in which GM seeds can be assessed and approved. Without that, companies cannot really invest because they would then expose themselves to allegations of entering a market without due diligence and the other necessary regulations," M)Mbijjewe says, adding that only two countries in Africa are growing a variety of GM crops partly because countries simply lack the necessary regulatory architecture.

Potential oversights in South Africa, such as the failure to set up refuge areas to prevent insects from becoming resistant to GM crops, also highlight that even African countries with stronger biotech capacities can run into serious difficulties.

It is perhaps even more worrying that developing countries have struggled to keep up with the pace with which nature is able to develop resistance to GM crops. For example, in the US, since cultivating GM crops with a tolerance of glyphosate-based herbicides, many farmers have been beset by "super weeds" that have a resistance to herbicides and farmers have had to turn to ever more toxic herbicides to tackle these weeds, claims Mayet. Nonetheless, M'Mbijjewe claims that reports of pests' increased resistance to GM crops in South Africa and elsewhere need not be a sign of the industry's failure:

"I am not too worried to hear about cases of resistance because technology evolves as nature evolves," says M'Mbijjewe. "Insects develop a resistance to things just like us humans. It is about having an innovation chain, whereby new technologies come out in response to nature's robust ability to protect itself," he goes on. "Companies have robust research and development projects and stewardship programmes to monitor how crops are developing and they are responding and trying to find new solutions. Ultimately it is in the companies' interests that GM seeds deliver on their promises so they are going to do whatever they can to ensure that this is the case," M'Mbijjewe adds.

There are, however, signs...

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