Widespread opposition to genetically modified (GM) crops in Africa has been described as a farce, based on fear of the unknown, by an African agriculture organisation chaired by former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan.
In a new report , AGRA (Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa) argues that anti-GM sentiment is a ‘farce’, pointing out that GM crops have been subject to more safety testing worldwide than any other new crops. It says that foods containing GM ingredients have been judged no riskier than those containing only conventionally grown ingredients by global institutions including the World Health Organization, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
“There is growing public opposition to GM crops in Africa that is best described as a fear of the unknown,” the report says. “Unless milled, the import of GMO foods is currently banned in Angola, Ethiopia, Kenya, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. More important to seed sector development, these bans signal the arbitrariness and unpredictability of public policy.”
Nevertheless, the report adds that GM crops may not have a role to play in ending food insecurity.
It says: “Given low adoption of improved crops by smallholder farmers in most countries, GMO crops are unlikely to impact Africa food security in the near future given low marginal yield gains over conventionally bred seeds.”
AGRA is an independent Kenya-based organisation that aims to cut food insecurity in half in at least 20 countries and double the incomes of 20m smallholder farmers.
However, critics say that the organisation’s real agenda is based on supporting agribusiness.
“It will come as no surprise that recommendations in the report all serve AGRA's agribusiness goal of creating massive new markets by converting African agriculture to a model based on corporate seed, fertilisers and pesticides, all paid for with spiralling debt,” said international advocacy coordinator for the Gaia Foundation, Teresa Anderson.
She said that it was insulting to call farmers' concerns about GM crops a fear of the unknown.
“AGRA may talk of addressing hunger and poverty, but their agenda to create a dangerous dependence on agribusiness corporations across Africa, is becoming more naked by the day.”
Only four African countries have commercialised GM crops: Burkina Faso, Egypt, Sudan and South Africa. Meanwhile, Cameroon, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria and Uganda are conducting field trials of GM crops, the final step before approval for commercialisation.
The full AGRA report is available online here (pdf).