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March 08, 2011

More African nations undertake GM crop trials

by Hopewell Radebe

After decades of resisting genetically modified crops, African nations are joining South Africa in researching and planting biotech crops to ensure food security, according to an industry report released last week .

A study shows that the fear of genetically modified crops creating super pests and super weeds down the line is not stopping African states from allowing producers of genetically modified seeds to conduct scientific experiments and field trials to assess their potential effects on biodiversity.

The global 2010 report of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications says biotech is increasingly becoming a driving force in Africa.

Other than SA, Egypt and Burkina Faso are the only two other African countries growing commercialised genetically modified crops.

Burkina Faso in West Africa planted 260000ha (115 000ha in 2009) of biotech cotton farmed by 80000 farmers on less than 3ha of land each last year. This represents an increase of 126%.

Egypt planted 2000ha of biotech maize. The cotton seed in Burkina Faso and the maize seed in Egypt were researched and produced in SA.

Deputy Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Pieter Mulder said several countries — Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Malawi, Mali and Ghana — were at an advanced stage of research and field trials with numerous genetically modified crops including maize, rice, wheat, cassava, bananas, sorghum and cotton. Mr Mulder was addressing a press conference in Centurion last week on the status in 2010 of commercialised biotech and genetically modified crops.

The report says SA is one of five principal developing countries growing biotech crops. The others are China and India in Asia, and Brazil and Argentina in Latin America.

These countries planted a total of 63-million hectares of biotech crops. Their combined population of 2,7-billion constitutes 40% of the global population.

"There is now a leading country commercialising biotech crops in each of three principal regions of Africa — SA in Southern and Eastern Africa, Burkina Faso in West Africa, and Egypt in North Africa," the report says.

Lobby group founder Clive James says it is noteworthy that the number of countries planting biotech crops was 29 last year, up from 25 in 2009, of which 19 were developing countries and 10 were industrialised countries.

Another 30 countries have approved biotech crops for food and feed, meaning 59 countries now use biotech crops for planting or importing.

The accumulated hectarage planted during the period 1996 to last year exceeded 1-billion hectares for the first time last year. The report said: "It took 10 years to reach the first 500-million hectares in 2005 but only half that time to plant the second 200-million hectares to reach a total of 1-billion hectares in 2010 … making biotech crops the fastest adopted crop technology in the history of modern agriculture."

The report predicted that by 2015, about 40 countries will have adopted biotech crops.

Business Day

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