Commentary: Africa and GMO crops

Knowledge about genetically modified organisms or genetically engineered crops is extremely small by African farmers, but their acceptance of GMOs is critical to feeding the population of Africa and the world headed to 2050.

The unsophisticated, small landholder farmers of Africa are in the crossfire of the controversy about GMOs. Believing the science of GMOs and the safety of such GE crops is something that these farmers are being asked to accept with faith. Anti-GMO activists can easily shake that faith with unfounded, twisted logic, pseudo-science and outright lies. Shaken faith has easily occurred with leadership of individual African nations voting to keep biotech crops out of their countries.

The anti-GMO activists claim African farmers, consumers and politicians are not being fully educated about the negatives of planting GE seeds or eating GE crops. The activists claim their version of information is the only true information; there is no gray area.

The pro-GMO organizations appear dominated by scientists, rather than the "good friends of African people like the anti-GMO crowd seems to portray themselves to brainwash and influence the people.

An article in The Guardian online news, which leans toward the activist point of view, got it right recently with one key paragraph. "They [Africans] are also misinformed on the issue, which has divided the world and created divisions in governments, caused misunderstandings among policymakers and led to academic rivalries among researchers and scientists. Limited by a shallow background on science and technology, farmers in the continent remain confused and undecided on which way to go.

As further explanation, The Guardian noted, "For many years, intensive discussions over health concerns of genetically engineered crops have been rampant.

The pro-GE side of the arguments is represented by Mark Lynas, who was quoted as saying, "As Africans remain at a crossroads on whether to accept or not to accept biotechnology in farming, the rest of the world has been making big advances in the area. The world is making remarkable strides that will see Africa remain hungry and an importer of food despite the abundant availability of fertile land.

On a personal level, in the October issue of AgProfessional Magazine yet to be in the hands of readers, I wrote an article looking at the potential for outside investment in African agriculture. Even though there is constant talk about the potential that Sub-Saharan Africa holds for investment in agriculture, there is no rush of money. The political instability and economic risk factors are one reason investment is proceeding slowly.

What I didn't investigate is how limiting biotech crop production in countries is hindering investment. Without much higher yield and superior quality crop production by growing biotech crops, one big incentive for investment is removed.

Let's hope the economics at the small landholder level win out. If farmers are allowed to see what they earn growing conventional crops compared to a much higher income from growing biotech crops with new technology practices, then the anti-GE crops group will lose.