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Jennifer Thomson on biotech in Africa and Europe

Why GM Crops?

Africa needs improved seeds. As climate change dries out its soil and struggling plants become ever more susceptible to pests and disease, we need new technologies to deal with these problems. Well-fed Europeans say no to food derived from GM crops, and subsidized farmers are told by their governments that they may not plant them, even while the same governments import GM maize and soybeans to feed Europe’s livestock and poultry. But African farmers, when given the chance as in South Africa and Sudan, leap at the opportunity to plant GM varieties. Herbicide tolerance relieves the cost of labor and allows women farmers, who usually do the weeding, to spend their time on more useful activities, such as tending their vegetable gardens. Insect resistance reduces the cost of buying insecticides and cuts down the adverse environmental effects of widespread spraying.

Excessive regulatory burdens are also hampering the development of new GM varieties that could significantly contribute to food security on the continent. What about drought tolerant varieties of maize? What about insect and pest resistant varieties of African crops such as cowpea, sorghum and cassava? It would be a shame if the prejudices – for there is absolutely no scientific evidence for harm to human or animal health – of well-fed Westerners prevent African farmers and consumers from benefitting from this technology.

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