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September 07, 2008

Genetically modified potato will benefit South African farmers

The availability of a new genetically-modified (GM) potato variety will be a blessing for South African small-scale farmers, GM interest group AfricaBio has said.

The group said it supported the introduction of a GM version of the Spunta potato variety, which has been developed by the Agricultural Research Council (ARC). The new variety is resistant to the potato tuber moth, the nemesis of small scale farmers without the resources to store crops under ideal conditions.

‘(The GM potato) is intended for the growing number of small scale farmers in South Africa, who we believe will play a vital role in food security in future,’ said Jocelyn Webster of AfricaBio.

Following six years of local research based on the original GM creation at the University of Michigan in the US, ARC has now applied to the South African agriculture ministry for a safety assessment and general release approval so that farmers can start with participatory trials, according to Kobie de Ronde of the ARC.

Webster said the GM potato will help eliminate the loss of about 40 million rands ($5 million) worth of potato crops caused by the tuber moths annually.

But the industry body Potatoes South Africa (PSA) remained sceptical. Ben Pieterse of PSA said the advantages of the GM potato did not weigh up against the possible consumer resistance and export losses.

ARC countered this by saying that the new variety will be used on a small scale only by farmers who did not have the capital for access to insect killers to fight the moth and would not be exported. Farmers and consumers would also be able to opt to use traditional varieties or the GM version of local potatoes, which would be clearly labelled.

South African consumers are still very resistant to using GM produce, although great success has been achieved in recent years with GM maize, soya bean and cotton crops which are all insect and herbicide resistant.

Sindh Today

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