Saturday, 29 March 2008

The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa & genetically modified (GM) crops

The production of genetically modified (GM) crops has increased 67-fold between 1996 and 2007. Around 55 million farmers in 23 countries now grow GM crops, such as maize, cotton, canola, soybean, squash, poplar, petunia, sweet pepper, carnation, alfalfa, tomato, Irish potatoes, papaya and grape on 690 million hectares (1.7 billion acres) (ISAAA 2007). However, Africa, the only continent where per capita food production is declining, has yet to significantly benefit from this technology as only South Africa is commercially growing GM crops in the continent.

The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) commissioned a study between 2004 and 2006 to assess the potential benefits and risks of adopting GMOs in Africa. The study looked at case studies of six countries - Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia - for the two crops of maize and cotton to assess the positives and negatives of adopting GM crops.

The study had to make certain assumptions in order to predict the scenarios in each country. For example, in order to project the net income gains for farmers if they switched to GM crops in the six countries, the study assumed that the areas currently planted to open-pollinated varieties (OPVs) for maize and improved varieties and hybrids for cotton would be the first to make the switch. Results showed that the net income for farmers would vary from US$ 2.5 to 7.5 million for maize and US$ 0.05 to 9.5 million for cotton per country. These are very conservative estimates.

In terms of assessing export risk arising from the European market banning GM or GM tainted crops, the study found that Egypt was the only country to face significant declines in export (4%). The other countries would likely face minor losses of no more than 1% (Table 2). Regional policy harmonization is critical as it is possible that the benefits of within region trade would offset any potential losses from export.

ICRISAT Monthly Newsletter, March 2008
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