Increasingly global media reports indicate that in a bid to improve agricultural production, more countries across the world are adopting biotech (GM) crops. In its January 22, 2020 issue, the digital ‘Crop Biotech Update’ reported: “Since the first year of commercial planting of biotech crops in 1996 more than 70 countries from all over the world have either planted or imported biotech crops. In 1996 the five founder biotech crop countries, the USA, China, Canada, Australia, and Mexico planted biotech crops in a total of 1.7 million hectares.”
In an earlier edition the publication reported that late last year Kenya approved commercial growing of biotech cotton in a bid to revitalise the country’s cotton sub-sector.
Kenya hopes to create 680,000 direct jobs through biotech cotton farming, 210 jobs at ginning level, 6,000 jobs at integrated mills, and 25,000 jobs at garments manufacturing.
Only last month another digital publication, ‘The Conversation’, reported that Nigeria approved GM cowpea for commercial farming. The new variety is resistant to a major pest that destroys the crop. This is big news coming from Nigeria, a country that had earlier approved biotech cotton production to boost its cloth manufacturing industry.
The publication observed that Nigeria’s adoption of biotech cowpeas is noteworthy because most African countries are unaware of the advantages of biotechnology in modern farming. Cowpeas are a staple crop in Nigeria and an important source of protein for over 200 million people.
Nigeria is also the world’s largest producer of cowpeas although it still has to import around 500,000 tonnes to meet internal demand since the potential loss in yield due to pests is more than 90 per cent.
The new cowpea variety is expected to be adopted by a number of West African countries including Ghana, Burkina Faso, and Niger.
African countries including Uganda have big populations to feed and to employ. Yet their agricultural production is declining due to pests, depleted soils, and climate change vagaries.
Biotech crops adoption is widely seen as one of the best approaches towards addressing this problem and some countries including South Africa, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Egypt, and Sudan are taking that direction.