Lessons from Brazil on biotech for Africa

Tuesday April 07 2015
seeds03 pic

A field of Bt and Round-up ready maize in Brazil. They are genetically modified to combat stem-borers and weeds. PHOTO BY P. WAMBOGA-MUGIRYA

Brazil presents a suitable example to learn from in adoption, processing and export of Genetically Modified (GM) crops and products, a cross-section of stakeholders have recommended.
Uganda could emulate the Brazilian model of GM-crops consumption, growth and expansion—as it enacts a law to regulate GM-crops being developed by National Agricultural Research Organisation (Naro).
Dr James Mutende-Shinyabulo, state minister for industry and technology, Dr Barbara Zawedde-Mugwanya, coordinator, Uganda Biosciences Information Centre (Ubic) and Prof Phinehas Tukamuhabwa, from Makerere University, were part of the Ugandan team that recently visited Brazil on a “seeing-is-believing” benchmarking study tour.
There were delegations from other countries; Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, as well as Argentina.

Appropriate model
Among GM crops Brazil grows, the herbicide-tolerant soya beans impressed them (African delegations) the most, in terms of involvement of both large and small-scale farmers in its cultivation, the management of weeds, and high yields realised.
Derek Kiberu, a soya-bean farmer from Luweero District, says Brazil presents an appropriate model for Uganda to study in how small- and large-scale farmers can co-exist, access to GM seed, efficient cooperatives and cost-effective production.
“The herbicide-tolerance soya-seed struck me most as it enables farmers to manage weeds, which is one of our biggest challenges in Uganda. In [Parana state, near Londrina city], we witnessed how farmers spray herbicides without having to weed a plantation. They also practice zero-tillage (no-ploughing) to keep soils intact,” he said.
Kiberu, a partner in the Luweero-based Vitality Foods and Feeds firm, also noted the extension and credit support that Brazilian government provides to farmers as a major incentive. These, among other things, enable soya farmers reap up to 3.5 metric tonnes per hectare. “This compares miserably with Uganda, where we realise 1.6 metric tonnes per hectare,” Kiberu added.

Demystify notions
Dr Mutende remarked that this cushioning of Brazilian farmers is a huge incentive. “The multiple state services assures farmers of profits and sustainability while it motivates private sector interest. These are vital lessons to Ugandan and other African countries.
Biotech researcher and lecturer, Dr Richard Okoth Oduor from Kenyatta University, was most impressed by the mechanisation and the excitement of farmers about GM crops.
“The revelation that farmers feel safer when eating labelled GM products was humbling. While accepting GM products from other countries, it was encouraging to see Brazilian scientists actively engaged in developing GM crops for their people. This helps to demystify the notion that GM technology only belongs to the West.”

Pursue commitments
Biotechnology research is conducted by Embrapa, the national agricultural research parastatal, which collaborated with International Service for Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (Isaaa), to organise the study visit.
Dr Margaret Karembu, director, Isaaa AfriCentre, expressed optimism that the study tour was an eye-opener for the African teams.
“Many made commitments to sensitising farmers at the grassroots with the information gathered. The realisation of how Africa is in relation to adoption of productivity-increasing technology should spur to pursue these commitments,” she said.

Brazil’s experience with gmos and the laws

Brazil, one of the largest agricultural producers in the world, seeks to reconcile scientific advances to environmental responsibility and biotechnology has undoubtedly contributed to this.
The adoption of biotechnology products decisively helped Brazil reach this production level, even with the late adoption of genetically modified (GM) crops, due to the legal uncertainties from 1998 to 2005.
The use of GM plants increases each year, thanks to the diversity of varieties available in the market, and to a suitable legal framework. Profiting from these exceptional conditions, Brazil has reached the second position worldwide in cultivated GM crop area.
The main GM products are soybeans, corn and cotton, all displaying insect resistance and/or herbicide tolerance.
Brazil has also its own product: a virus-resistant common bean, developed by Embrapa. Others under research include eucalyptus (increased volume of wood), wheat (abiotic stress), soya bean (improvement in oil quality, resistance to Asian rust), citrus (disease resistance) and rice (increased productivity).
Apart from GM plants, 18 vaccines and two yeasts have been approved. Most of the vaccines were developed for poultry and swine.
Until 2005 Brazil had a rather confusing legal scenario for both research activities and the commercial release of GMOs. Back in 1998, the commercial approval of Roundup Ready soya beans by the National Biosafety Technical Commission (CTNBio) evoked a long debate for more than six years. It centred on non-scientific issues or, sometimes, on misquoted scientific data. Moreover, other purely scientific activities, as laboratory experiments and field trials, were largely prohibited.
A new law issued in 2005 restructured the CTNBio and, ultimately, authorising the first harvest of transgenic soya bean
The new law changed the scenario; it provided for safety and inspection for the construction, culture, production, manipulation, transportation, transfer, import, export, storage, research, marketing, environmental release and disposal of GMOs and their by-products.
It also eliminated the many authority conflicts, which plagued the first law and were on the basis of a legal uncertainty that simultaneously drove off the biotech companies and allowed for endless legal questionings related to both field experiments and commercial releases.


Source: World Food Science

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