May 28, 2014
Biotechnology in Africa: Growing voices see role in enhanced food security and nutrition

It’s exceedingly rare to see a kind word about green biotechnology–genetically modified organisms or seeds–in The Guardian, which tends to be rabidly anti-business.

It’s noteworthy, therefore, that The Guardian published a reasonable commentary this week by Calestous Juma, faculty chair of the Innovation for Economic Development Programme at Harvard University’s Kennedy School, titled “Feeding Africa: why biotechnology sceptics are wrong to dismiss GM“.

The article does not mention Monsanto once, which may have helped it find favour with The Guardian. We’re not offended. Instead, we welcome the focus on issues and facts: food security, nutrition, and the role that GM seeds and crops are already playing in some countries, and could play in others.

Mr. Juma talks about GM cotton in India–a large portion of which is Monsanto’s leading Bollgard cotton variety–as well as biotech bananas in Uganda and biotech blackeyed peas in Nigeria. Each is a good example of a seed that was developed as a solution to a problem faced by farmers in the real world, in the field. The latter two examples have the additional public acceptance benefit of having been developed locally. 

His conclusion: “These techniques have the potential to address a wide range of agricultural, health, and environmental issues in African countries, leading to increased productivity and therefore contributing to increased food security.” But, he continues, emerging nations “face major regulatory hurdles imposed by their own governments and championed by external advocacy groups. It is time to follow the growing evidence rather than cling to ideology. In the long run new threats to food security may come from not adopting biotechnology, rather than adopting it.” 

The message seems to be catching on. By coincidence, a senior Nigerian government official this week was quoted as saying that countries that had achieved some level of food security only achieved the feat when they fully embraced biotech. Mrs. Winifred Oyo Ita, Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Science and Technology, said biotechnology is critical in achieving economic development and urged smallholder farmers to embrace the new farming technology given that there is nothing to fear from GM seeds or crops. Here’s some media coverage of her remarks:

Monsanto, for its part,  is happy to be able to help farmers make choices by making both conventional seeds and biotech seeds available, depending on farmers’ needs and local restrictions. We’ll sell biotech seeds where farmers are allowed to grow them, but are perfectly happy to sell farmers conventional seeds where they can already contribute to big increases in yields and incomes and improve people’s lives. Our new video about the Water Efficient Maize for Africa programnot biotech corn–shows one example of this approach in action.


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