By Michelle Mukonyora
11 February 2016
Food security is a concern across the African continent. With El Niño induced drought currently affecting parts of Africa, there is increased pressure to look more closely at genetically modified (GM) crops as a solution. Africa as a whole has been reluctant to adopt GM technologies citing concerns about the health and environmental risks associated with planting GM crops. South Africa and Egypt are the only African countries growing GM maize commercially, with Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Ghana, Malawi, Mali and Nigeria conducting trials. Other important food crops that are currently under trial are rice, wheat and sorghum.
A critical part of adopting GM technologies in any country is a regulatory framework. Several African countries have adopted biosafety laws, which have opened the way for more research and development. Kenya’s National Biosafety Authority has recently authorised the limited environmental release of a GM maize variety MON810 manufactured by Monsanto. This variety is resistant to insect pests belonging to the family Lepidoptera, of which the maize borer is a member. It is also tolerant to glyphosate herbicide and the antibiotics kanamycin and neomycin.
MON810 is cultivated in other parts of the world and is not without controversy. Its cultivation has been banned in six European countries but the scientific reasoning behind the bans have been questioned. MON810 is currently being cultivated in parts of North and South America, the European Union, Asia and Africa (South Africa).