An excerpt from my new essay on GM and Africa for Arizona State University’s Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes:
For many years genetically-modified (GM) crops have been held out as a panacea for Africaâ€™s chief economic problem: poor farm productivity. Fears of GM, however, have stopped the technology cold in sub-Saharan Africa in what is perhaps the most pervasive example of anti-technology backlash in the world. Despite intense interest in raising food output by Africans, GM is essentially a non-actor in the farm drama. No sub-Saharan country outside of South Africa (exceptional for many reasons) currently permits the growing of GM crops or the sale of GM seeds. European opposition to the technology has greatly influenced African politicians who say they do not wish to despoil traditional agricultural settings or become reliant on imported agro-technologies. The impasse over GM in Africa has been considered a tragedy by some promoters of new technologies who insist that the technology can help produce the â€œGreen Revolutionâ€ that so long eluded sub-Saharan Africa. Proponents cite the spread of GM crops in the US (85 % of soybeans, 75% of corn and half of cotton are GM varieties) and the popularity of the technology with American farmers (who adopt the technology because it simplifies the growing process and, often, reduces costs). Opponents counter that traditional crop breeding can satisfy the needs of African farmers more quickly and less expensively than bio-technology. They darkly suggest that, worse, GM is part of a Western conspiracy to indenture African farmers to foreign seed companies. The technology, in short, is a kind of agro-colonialism.