London (13.12.16) – Notwithstanding the reported problems with GM-cotton in Burkino Faso (1), several African countries appear to be moving to embrace GM-agriculture. (In Burkino Faso both farmers and companies found that while GM did increase cotton yields, the quality of cotton appears to have declined; cotton companies have questioned the quality of the product saying that the fibre length of the cotton from the GM-varieties is too short, an issue more related to the original varieties used for the development of the GM seeds which can be rectified by now using varieties with longer fibres together with the insect resistance gene (2).

The National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) of Nigeria has said genetically modified beans would be available in commercial quantity across that country’s markets on or before 2019. NABDA’s Director General said that "Nigerians should be rest assured that the GM beans and other crops which will be available later in the country would be safe for consumption. In 2-3 years' time, cowpea should be ready in commercial quantity in the country” (3).

Across the continent, following the adoption of a law that granted experimentation rights both in labs and fields and the conduct of confined field trials of samples of biotechnologically developed cotton from India and Sudan, Ethiopia is set authorise the commercialisation of BT cotton in two years’ time. While the main problem is to defeat attacks by the bollworm, producers are also looking for higher yields together with reductions in the use of herbicides, water and other agricultural inputs. Like so many other countries, Ethiopia also has its share of anti-GM activists but Endale Gebre, the director of agricultural biotechnology at the Ethiopian Agricultural Research Institute, dismissed the alleged consequences saying that the allegations were scientifically unfounded (4).

Of enormous potential vale to millions of Africans using maize as a s staple food crop is the reporting from a number of labs in Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Uganda of GM-drought tolerant variety. Transgenic plants maintained higher relative water content and total chlorophyll during the drought period and produced a significantly higher mean grain yield of 44.3 g/plant while the wild type plants produced mean grain yield of 1.43 g/plant (5). Biotechnology students in Kenya have criticized the government for frustrating the process of issuing a permit to conduct national performance trials of genetically modified maize (6) but their acxtion evoked the comment asking whether “these ignorant morons realise the lifetime entrapment they would be subjecting our farmers to in forcing them to depend on predatory foreign agri-multinationals like Monsanto for seeds if Kenya took up GMOs, not to mention the unknown health risks to consumers?” Kenya seems to have its share of misinformed objectors, just like many other countries.

And South Afriuca, where GM-maize has been cultivated for many years, is now for the first to allow imports of GM-maize from the U.S. after its worst drought since records began 104 years ago cut local output (7).

Still in the tropics, but now in South America, the first variety of GM-sugarcane will be released commercially. Approval for commercial release by the National Technical Biosafety Commission (CNTBio) is expected in the first half of 2017 (8).

Sources:

1. Joan Conrow (27.4.16). Burkina Faso puts GM cotton on hold. Cornell Alliance for Science (http://allianceforscience.cornell.edu/blog/burkina-faso-puts-gm-cotton-hold)

2. Jocelyn Webster (7.6.16). What’s really behind the negative GM cotton story in Burkina Faso? Biosciences for Farming in Africa (http://b4fa.org/whats-really-behind-negative-gm-cotton-story-burkina-faso/#.V1aJf7RJAkc.twitter)

3. Zakariyya Adaramola (23.11.16). Genetically modified beans to flood Nigerian markets in 2019 – NABDA. Daily Trust (http://www.dailytrust.com.ng/news/agriculture/genetically-modified-beans-to-flood-nigerian-markets-in-2019-nabda/173000.html)

4. Birhanu Fikade (19.11.16). Ethiopia to commercialize BT cotton in two years. The Reporter (http://www.thereporterethiopia.com/content/ethiopia-commercialize-bt-cotton-two-years).

5. Leta Tulu Bedada, Miccah Songelael Seth, Steven Maina Runo, Wondyifraw Teffera, Charless Mugoya, Clet Wandui Masiga, Richard Okoth Oduor, Eduardo Blumewald and Francis Wachira (26.10.16). Drought tolerant tropical maize (Zea mays L.) developed through genetic transformation with isopentenyltransferase gene. African Journal of Biotechnology (http://www.academicjournals.org/journal/AJB/article-full-text-pdf/FDDCDB061322)

6. Agatha Ngotho (9.12.16). University students want government to issue licence of GMO maize. The Star (http://www.the-star.co.ke/news/2016/12/09/university-students-want-government-to-issue-licence-of-gmo-maize_c1471014)

7. Antony Sguazzin and Thembisile Dzonzi (5.12.16). South Africa to allow U.S. GM corn imports for first time. Bloomberg (https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-12-05/s-africa-to-allow-imports-of-gm-corn-from-u-s-for-first-time)

8. Cana transgênica terá uso comercial liberado. Canal Rural (30.11.16) (http://www.canalrural.com.br/noticias/agricultura/variedade-transgenica-cana-sera-liberada-para-uso-comerial-64892)

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