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9 reasons why African farmers should reject GM crops



9 reasons why African farmers should reject GM crops
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Africa is in danger of becoming the dumping ground for the struggling GM industry and the laboratory for frustrated scientists.

The proponents of GM technology sell a sweet message of GM crops bringing the second green revolution and the answer to African hunger, but a closer look makes it clear that GM crops have no place in African agriculture.

A close look at GM crops and the context under which they are developed makes it clear that GM crops have no place in African agriculture. Here are reasons why:


  1. GM Crops will contaminate non-GM crops; co-existence is not possible

GM crops are plants and, as such, they cannot be easily controlled. Pollen can travel long distances by way of wind and insects. Human error and curiosity or simply regular farming practices also help seed to spread.

GM crops can therefore never co-exist with non-GM crops of the same species without the risk of contaminating them, especially in Africa where tight controls over seeds and farming is unrealistic. This contamination would have serious implications for small-scale farmers.

For instance, it would endanger the indigenous seeds that these farmers have developed over centuries and that they trust and know. Farmers with contaminated fields could also end up being forced to pay royalties to the companies that own the patents on the GM crops that contaminated their fields.

  1. GM crops will foster dependence on a corporate seed supply.

Most GM seed manufacturing companies prohibit farmers from saving their on-farm produced seeds for the next season and from sharing them with their neighbours, relatives and friends.

This is imposed through elaborate contracts, agreements, and conditions, which are imposed by the multinational GM seed companies. More than 80% of the small-scale farmers in Africa today save their on-farm produced seeds for the next season.

Farmers sometimes do this because they do not have enough money to buy new seeds and sometimes because they value their own seed. Also, seed sharing (with neighbours, relatives and friends) is a cultural norm in many African communities. The introduction of GM seeds will jeopardise these traditional and vital practices.

  1. GM crops will increase the use of chemicals

More than 70 % of all the GM crops currently grown in the world are genetically modified to resist certain herbicides. Farmers that grow these GM crops must use the herbicides sold by the very companies selling the GM seeds.

Not surprisingly, studies show that these crops are increasing the use of herbicides, especially as certain weeds develop resistance to the herbicide. Once again, the GM seeds promise huge profits for multinational corporations, but only increasing costs for small-scale farmers in Africa.

  1. GM crops are patented

Transnational corporations own nearly 100% of the agricultural biotechnology patents and the majority of these patents are controlled by a handful of pesticide corporations.

These companies will use their patents to block research that does not suit their interests and to trap farmers into paying them royalties every year on seeds and into a never-ending dependence on their chemical inputs.

  1. GM crops threaten organic and sustainable farming.

Most of the farmers in Africa practice organic agriculture (by default or by choice). Genetic engineering poses a great threat to such farmers in several ways, including the following:

Many farmers in Africa rely on Bacillus thuringiensis  (Bt), a microbe found in the soil that farmers can use as a natural insecticide. The toxin-producing genes of Bt have also been genetically modified into certain crops so that these GM crops constantly express the Bt toxin.

The widespread growing of GM Bt crops will encourage the development of resistance to Bt among important crop pests, thus rendering this natural insecticide useless.

  1. The biosafety systems required are unrealistic for African countries

African nations lack the expertise, equipment, infrastructure, legislation and regulatory systems to implement effective biosafety measures for GM crops.

They also lack the funds to build these up and will therefore have to look for outside funding, which will increase their already heavy foreign debt loads. Should the development of GM agriculture really be a priority for African governments at this point in time?

  1. GM crops will not resolve problems with pests

GM crops encourage the prolonged and continuous use of herbicides and pesticides, including the pesticides expressed by GM plants. As a result, pests and harmful weeds inevitably develop resistance, forcing farmers to use more pesticides and more toxic mixtures.

Attempting to overcome pests by the selective use of pesticides targeted at one particular pest, is particularly short-sighted in tropical agriculture, because simply eliminating one pest allows space for secondary pests to proliferate and take over.

  1. GM crops will encourage the arbitrary destruction of biodiversity

African biodiversity is rich and complex, but it is also fragile. GM crops could easily upset the ecological balance, bringing serious repercussions for farming and the surrounding environment.

  1. GM crops are a threat to human health

Little is known about the impacts of GM crops on human health. Extensive and independent studies have simply not been done. But the risks are clearly real, especially for Africa, where diseases that are effectively controlled in the West still run rampant.

HIV/AIDS, for instance, was first discovered in the West but it is now decimating the African population, and few Africans can afford the cheap retroviral drugs that can lengthen the lives of those who are infected. Today, every person in Africa is either infected or affected by the disease or both.

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