Date Posted: October 25th, 2010
The use of genetically modified crops in Africa is hotly debated. Opponents claim that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have not been proven to be safe, and that the long-term effects on the environment and health are unknown. Supporters believe they are a key tool to provide long-term food security.
The Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) project aims to develop drought-tolerant African maize using conventional breeding, marker-assisted breeding, and biotechnology. The benefits and safety of the maize varieties will be assessed by national authorities according to their regulatory requirements. A long-term goal is to make drought-tolerant maize available royalty-free to small-scale farmers in sub-Saharan Africa.
For more information on WEMA, visit: http://www.aatf-africa.org/projects/aatf_projects//wema/.
At this link you will find a useful frequently asked questions document on the initiative: http://www.aatf-africa.org/userfiles/WEMA-FAQ.pdf.
The project has appeared in local press. Here is an article in the New Vision newspaper, Uganda, in late 2009: http://www.newvision.co.ug/D/9/756/704455.
A recent presentation by one of the project scientists can be viewed here: http://www.ofabafrica.org/meeting_presentations/OFAB_presentaion_29Sept10.pdf.
Reporters from the New Agriculturist recently interviewed Dr. Godfrey Asea. The transcript can be read here: http://www.agfax.net/radio/detail.php?i=330.
Or you can listen to a podcast of the interview here: http://www.podcasts.doubletwist.com/The-New-Agriculturist/HcRM8vEqxT#q=a&id=HcRM8vEqxT. It is the third podcast (labeled 2010-3) and the discussion about this initiative begins at around 3 minutes 10 seconds.
The Biosafety Clearing-House website offers a searchable database of laws and regulations on GMOs in various countries: http://bch.cbd.int/database/laws/.
You may wish to review the following Farm Radio Weekly stories, which highlight some milestones in the GMO debate in Africa over the past two years:
Kenya: Groups protest import of GM maize (Issue 109, May 2010)
Malawi: Farmers succeed with new varieties of drought tolerant maize (Issue 128, September 2010)
Kenya: Kibaki gives seal of approval on biosafety law for the production and use of genetically modified crops (Issue 56, February 2009)
Zimbabwe: Farmers protest imported GM produce (Issue 95, January 2010)
South Africa: Farmers reject GM potato (Issue 38, September 2008)
Benin: A cautious approach in the midst of the heated debate on GMOs (Issue 16, March 2008) http://weekly.farmradio.org/2008/03/31/1-benin-a-cautious-approach-in-the-midst-of-the-heated-debate-on-gmos-inter-press-service-allafricacom/
South Africa: GM crop problems called failure of biotechnology (Issue 63, April 2009)
If you are interested in researching a story about GMOs in your area, you may wish to consider the following questions:
-What laws has your country enacted to regulate biosafety and biosecurity?
-What information about GMOs is available in your area? Who provides this information?
-How much do farmers know about GMOs? Where do they get their information from?
-Would farmers consider planting genetically modified varieties of maize? Would they prefer this to experimenting with conventionally-bred sorghum or millet, for example?
-Do farmers think GM maize is a good option in drought-prone areas? Or can they suggest other options for maintaining yields when rains are poor?
-Which NGOs, industry groups, or other organizations in your area advocate for or against GMOs?