GM Crops in Africa Endorse As A Safe and Viable Option: Experts

Agricultural scientists from across Africa have joined the ongoing debate on GMOs, which they strongly support as a safe and viable solution to food insecurity.

GM Crops in Africa Endorse As A Safe and Viable Option: Experts

Agricultural scientists from across Africa have joined the ongoing debate on genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which they strongly support as a safe and viable solution to food insecurity. The experts also assured the public that GM crops currently on the African market have the same or better nutrition and composition than non-GM crops.

“African GM crops have been grown commercially since 1996 and are proven to be a highly successful farm tool improving production and environmental safety benefits. Foods derived from biotech crops have been consumed for twenty-five years with no verified health problems reported,” according to a statement issued by the Annual Meeting of African Science Academies (AMASA) 2022.

Scientists are the ultimate authority on GMO safety, so this declaration serves to dispel any doubts that the general public across the continent may have had about the safety of GM crops.

Over 90 experts from 25 National Science Academies gathered in Nairobi, Kenya, from November 28 to 30, 2022, under the auspices of the Network of African Science Academies (NASAC), to discuss and make recommendations on how Africa can strengthen its capacity for sustainable agriculture and food systems.

Among the convention’s key takeaways, experts urged African countries to embrace and capitalise on the enormous potential of modern agricultural biotechnology in improving agricultural productivity.

The scientists point out that GMOs are subjected to rigorous safety testing before being approved and that research on GM crops must be reviewed and approved in accordance with national and international science protocols.

“As a result, biotech crops in development are subjected to various levels of risk assessment (case by case) before they are approved for commercial cultivation.”

Concerns about the nutrition and composition of African GM crops were addressed by experts, who stated that food from GM crops is digested in the body in the same way as food from non-GM crops. For example, GM maize has the same nutritional value and is digested in the same way as non-GM varieties.

The widespread cultivation and consumption of GM crops in other parts of the world attests to their safety and value. According to the African scientists, more than 70 countries have adopted biotech crops, and more than 190 million hectares of biotech crops are grown globally.

They discovered that developing countries grew 56% of the global biotech crop area, while industrialised countries grew 44%.

African GM crops have also been approved by leading scientific authorities worldwide, including the United States National Academy of Sciences, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Health Organization, the European Food Safety Authority, the American Medical Association, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, assuring that GM food crops pose no risks to people, animals or the environment.

To allay concerns about regulatory and research capacity, experts stated that most African countries have the necessary scientific infrastructure and human capacity for biotech crop research and development, as well as sufficient biosafety capacity to regulate GM research and products.

The scientists’ statement comes at an opportune time in a debate that has recently been marred by controversy and misinformation, the latter promoted by anti-GMO activists primarily in political and civil society spaces.

The scientists took particular issue with the Kenyan case, where misinformation and fearmongering have been rampant in both traditional and social media following the country’s 10-year ban on GMO cultivation and imports, which was lifted in October 2022.

“We note that the continent has been embroiled in a polarised debate over genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which are products of modern biotechnology. Following the lifting of a decade-long ban on the importation and use of genetically modified foods in Kenya, the debate has heated up even more. The debate has even reached the courts, with the High Court recently ordering the suspension of GMO importation and distribution,” according to the conference’s statement.

NASAC was founded in 2001 with the belief that science is critical to Africa’s economic, social, and cultural development, and it seeks to assist its membership in making the voice of African science heard by African decision-makers and decision-makers worldwide.

The association also encourages its members to contribute to the development of science and technology capacity in all African countries.

“Strengthening Capacity for Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems in Africa,” was the theme of the AMASA 2022 conference. This reflected the challenges that many African countries are facing, such as declining agricultural productivity and increased food insecurity.

A devastating drought has struck the Horn of Africa, condemning millions to famine and exacerbating an already precarious food security situation.

Over 4 million Kenyans require humanitarian assistance, and the situation in the livestock sector is deteriorating, with more than 50 feed manufacturers closing and farmers downsizing their herds.

“While we debate GMOs, the drought situation in twenty of Kenya’s 23 ASAL counties worsens. The situation is similar in most of Africa. Shockingly, more than 100 million Africans are suffering from acute food insecurity,” according to the statement.

To help alleviate the situation, the experts made recommendations to improve GM crop acceptance and adoption in African countries. To begin, they proposed that scientists and the media take more proactive steps to educate the public and combat widespread misinformation, misperceptions, and myths about GMOs.

They also emphasised the importance of strong political leadership that recognises the critical role of science in addressing climate change and food insecurity. To that end, the experts expressed concern about the unfortunate turn of events in Kenya, which saw the GMO debate take an overly political tone.

The experts also suggested that overlaps in biosafety regulatory and policy frameworks in Africa be addressed in order to improve the approval process for GM products.

“It’s important that we recognise this inflection point in how science supports society to address global challenges. “The time has come to create more inclusive spaces for pro-science voices and to use every channel to bring diverse perspectives into every debate,” said Alliance for Science Executive Director Dr. Sheila Ochugboju.

Dr. Joseph Maina is a senior lecturer in Macquarie University’s Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences. Joseph’s long-term goals are to better understand and predict the effects of environmental variability and change on social and ecological systems at the local and global levels, in order to aid in spatial planning and management.