On trial: Agricultural biotechnology research in Africa

21 July 2014. SciDev. GM’s potential in Africa impeded by ‘dysfunctional debate’. Opportunities to enhance crop yields and reduce poverty in Africa are being lost because of a “polarised public debate” on the continent, according to a report by the international policy institute Chatham House.

Genetic modification (GM) research projects remain stuck at the field trial stage due to governments’ fears keeping the technology from African farmers, it says.

This “deadlock” of continual field trials has allowed African governments to appease both sides of the GM debate: proponents are pleased research is done, whereas opponents are satisfied that research has not led to products on the market, the report says.

“Part of the problem is that it is a very one-sided debate. Governments are not doing a

good job of providing reliable information and data that contradicts the misinformation campaigns about GM. Politicians and policymakers are wary of stepping into the debate,” says author Rob Bailey, from Chatham House.

The report cites evidence from a survey of ongoing GM research and development projects in selected African countries by the networking organisation FARA (Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa): from 2010 to 2013 none of the surveyed projects had progressed from field trials.

“Many of the opponents of GM crops are not interested in engagement or understanding. They want to eliminate the technology altogether,” says Calestous Juma, an international development expert at Harvard Kennedy School, United States. “This is why the highly restrictive laws were put in place [in Africa] before the technology was given a chance or before there was sufficient evidence either way. It is also the reason why some of the opponents destroy field trials,” he says. “It is because they do not want to see any evidence that might lead to the adoption of the technology. They have made up their minds that biotechnology should be eliminated. The situation is more like war than it is like debate.”

Related:
25/07 BBC Africa ‘missing out on biotech green revolution’
25/07 Voice of America Researchers: Africa Genetically Modified Crops Held Back by Scaremongering
21/07 All Africa Africa: On Trial – Agricultural Biotechnology in Africa

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