Save the Matoke! GMOs in Africa

Controversies abound – the debate over genetically modified organisms or GMOs continues. Today, CNN International ran a story about the National Banana Research Program in Uganda, where scientists are engineering a variety of banana that is resistant to blight. Of course this research is being conducted with special permission because GM crops are currently illegal in Uganda. But according to the article, recent surveys show that 95% of Ugandan farmers are willing to grow GM crops. Still only about 58% of Ugandans are willing to consume GM foods.

Last semester, I worked on a paper covering the perceptions of GM crops and the market risks of adopting this new technology in sub-Saharan Africa. This paper showed similar trends in South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, and Ghana have been found in previous studies. While the majority of consumers have a positive attitude toward GM foods, governments in sub-Saharan Africa have lagged in developing pro-GMO policies. Why? One reason could be that there is fear that their countries will lose access to critical markets in Europe, where the GMO backlash has been the strongest. But Robert Paarlberg’s research has shown that crops that would be substituted with GM varieties are more commonly traded among countries within Africa, rather than to Europe or other outside countries. Fears of market risk are unfounded.

As the CNN article and countless others show, GM crops could bridge the gap between low yields seen in Africa and the higher yields of similar crops found in Asia and Latin America. Until African governments adopt policies that give their farmers access to these improved varieties, agriculture yields will remain low and food security will remain out of reach.

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