Bolder calls for adopting genetically-modified (GM) seeds in Africa present the number opportunity for fast, dramatic output improvements. August and influential bodies such as the African Union and individual African governments continue to tread too cautiously around the process and prospects for limited but significant GM-based agriculture. African farmers have urgent needs and urgent action on promtoing GM would likely win more praise than the current desultory approach to incorporating advanced technologies in seeds and crop selection. While Burkina Faso’s movement on GM cotton is laudable, it is also a notable exception. Individual governments continue to move too slowly on GM, in contrast with India where GM cotton is now the norm and in the U.S. where GM crops have raised productivity with no ill effects. Greater use of GM crops, more quickly and safely, would result from sub-regional approaches to testing and approving GM seeds. Today each African government essentially wishes to “reinvent the wheel” for each set of GM seeds to be planted on its national soils. Cooperative approaches to regulatory approval, which would lower costs of scientific testing and speed approval, are nowhere evidence.
Interestingly, the main concern about GM crops in Africa is no longer that they’re unsafe. Africans are tired of being told other countries have to breed seed for them. They want to be part of the research, not just importers of produce by others. It is more about self-worth than it is about ideology.
The question of course is how quickly can Africans themselves ramp up their capacity to breed GM seeds, as opposed to purchasing them from Monsanto and other international, corporate seed companies. My preference is that Africans develop their own seed capacities alongside those of the Monsantos; so that African farmers can more rapidly gain the benefits of a technology that can raise their incomes and living standards. In Burkina, Monsanto’s GM seeds are being used. So much the better if there is an African supplier as well. But if there is not, should Burkina farmers not use GM seeds even though these seeds require lower pesticide applications, so enhance farmer safety as well as raise cotton output dramatically?