Tuesday February 25 2014

GMOs must be regulated

As Parliament debates the National Biotechnology and Bio-safety Bill, a lot still remains unknown. Employing experts in this field for capacity building and knowledge enhancement may be essential.

New biotechnology has evoked high hopes, high stakes and fears for ultimate human control over nature amidst food insecurity, poverty, and climate change. Behind claims for hypothetical risks and benefits, there lies conflicts over how nature may be controlled and even reconstructed for specific human purposes.

Agricultural biotechnology has provoked much debate on how to anticipate unintended effects on soil quality, nutritional values, natural resources and the general environment.

At a recent G8 Summit, President Barrack Obama unveiled a $3 billion 10-year programme to reduce hunger in Africa. At the meeting, Obama announced the new alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, arguing that the advanced farming techniques developed by corporations such as Monsanto, Cargill and DuPont can be an effective response to the “moral imperative” of ending hunger in Africa.

As part of the alliance, agricultural corporations from several countries will collaborate with government officials in selected African nations, along with civil society groups and local farmers to increase crop yields. Monsanto is committing $50 million to the plan. The US-based corporation, which specialises in biotechnology research and applications, seeks to introduce new maize hybrids suitable for Tanzania, in addition to making financing more easily available to farmers.

Meanwhile, Obama’s Africa food plan prompts alerts on genetically modified organisms. Those opposed to farming initiatives involving GMOs say the food security scheme is mainly to help US agribusinesses to bring biotechnology to African countries. The goal of agribusiness corporations is not to fight hunger; their objective is to make money. The fundamental argument is that the aim of reducing hunger in Africa by promoting corporate investment in agriculture is not well-intentioned and misguided.

Yes, the agricultural revolution that entails innovative commercially-oriented and modern agriculture has prompted the need to embrace biotechnology even without going the whole distance on field-based research, technical and regulatory mechanisms, sustainable land use and management, effective capacity building and knowledge enhancement for our farmers.

African farmers’ problems are too complex to be solved by high-tech seeds. Also, American agribusiness interests argue that Africans must drop their opposition to genetically modified crops if the continent is going to feed its growing population, but GMOs should be regulated.

Dornam Ahumuza,