Are GM crops the answer to Africa’s food crisis?

May 25th, 2009 - 11:35 am ICT by IANS  

By Groum Abate
Addis Ababa, May 25 (IANS) With Africa’s population steadily growing, the debate over genetically modified (GM) crops in the continent has gained special resonance.

A three-day conference in Uganda last week attracted international experts, heads of farmers associations and private sector representatives, who gathered to discuss the potential benefits and challenges of producing GM crops in Africa.

The conference - Delivering Agricultural Biotechnology to African Farmers: Linking Economic Research to Decision Making - was organised by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) in collaboration with the Uganda National Council for Science and Technology and the Science Foundation for Livelihoods and Development.

“In the coming years, growing populations, stagnating agricultural productivity, and increasing climate change will make it even more difficult for Africa to tackle poverty, hunger and malnutrition,” said Mark Rosegrant, director of IFPRI’s Environment and Production Technology Division.

“To confront these challenges, many African countries are increasingly assessing a range of tools and technologies, including agricultural biotechnologies, which hold great promise for improving crop yields, household incomes, and the nutritional quality of food in an environmentally sustainable way.”

By bringing social scientists and decision makers together, this first-of-its-kind conference, May 19-22, aimed to bridge the gap between policy and research, and provide solid information and evidence on which sound choices and investments related to GM technology can be made.

Research presented at the conference, for example, shows that in delaying the approval of GM fungal-resistant banana, Uganda forgoes potential benefits ranging from about US$179 million to US$365 million a year.

According to an IFPRI analysis, expansion in the adoption of GM crops could also significantly lower the price of food in developing countries by 2050. Realizing these benefits, however, depends on acceptance by farmers, public awareness and consumer preferences, regulatory and market issues, and strong political will, including the willingness to invest in new technology.

Deciding whether or not to make GM crops a priority in their agricultural development and food and nutrition security strategies and invest in modern biotechnology is an important consideration for many African countries.

“Managing the opportunities and risks posed by GM crops, including trade-related challenges, requires countries to have well-functioning, efficient, and responsible bio-safety systems,” said Margaret Karembu, director of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) AfriCenter in Nairobi, where the Kenya Biosafety Bill became law in February 2009, joining Mali and Togo, which enacted national biosafety legislation in 2008.

“These countries’ experiences offer useful lessons for other African countries working to develop biosafety policies, including the increased potential to benefit from proven research and help smallholder farmers with limited resources gain access to agricultural biotechnologies and successfully use them,” she added.

The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) seeks sustainable solutions for ending hunger and poverty. IFPRI is one of 15 centres supported by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), an alliance of 64 governments, private foundations, and international and regional organizations.

(Groum Abate can be contacted at

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