Editorial: Genetically Modified Crops Could Help Feed Africa

Editorial: Genetically Modified Crops Could Help Feed Africa

In Tanzania, a policy of strict liability threatens companies or organizations that introduce genetically modified crops, and none has dared to bring such plants to Tanzania’s fields leaving scientists hampered and frustrated, according to an editorial in the WashingtonPost.

Tanzania has adopted some of the most restrictive rules in Africa to govern genetically modified food.

Genetically modified crops can increase yields, which lag in Africa behind those of the rest of the world, according to a new report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Africa in general has been slow to accept genetic engineering. Only four countries have commercialized biotech crops: South Africa, Egypt, Sudan and Burkina Faso.

Underlying the hesitation is a suspicion that the genetically modified crops are the first wave of malevolent U.S. corporations seeking a toehold in African fields, the editorial assert.

Since U.S. farmers first adopted genetically modified crops in 1996, 17 million farmers in 29 countries have followed suit, but Europe has rejected the crops, and European activists have urged Africa to do the same. There is much talk of a threat to Africa’s “food sovereignty.” This is having some impact, however misguided.

Smallholder farmers — those with less than two hectares — are the backbone of Africa’s agriculture. They face immense difficulties. Fewer than a third of the farmers in sub-Saharan Africa use any type of improved seeds that have been developed through conventional breeding, let alone more advanced, genetically modified varieties.

This is the hard reality that can’t be changed overnight by genetic engineering.

Surely, there is no harm in a vigorous debate about genetically modified food; if people don’t understand it, the benefits will never be realized. But it is a shame to abandon these crops based on irrational fears and suspicions.

If Europeans choose to forego genetically modified food, they can do so without risking hunger. They ought not discourage its use for those village children in Tanzania who are hungry and at the mercy of drought.