DuPont Home
DuPont South Africa

African Countries Need to Review GM Crop Policies in the Wake of Somalia Drought Crisis

August 2011 - In the wake of what the UN is calling the worst humanitarian disaster in decades in Somalia, the issue of food sustainability and accessibility in Africa is again a topic of global debate.

African leaders need to urgently review their policies when it comes to trialing genetically modified (GM) crop technologies in their countries, which is already proving a viable solution to creating affordable and accessible food in select African territories. This is according to Willem Engelbrecht Country Manager of Pioneer, a DuPont business - the global leader of market driven science - who says that advance breeding technology is already making a significant impact in improving crop yields in countries such as Ethiopia, but that there is still significant resistance from many countries on the continent.

“GM technology is proven to be a viable way to aid farmers in poorer countries, allowing them to keep up crop yields under pressure from the impacts of climate change.

“Agriculture is a game-changer that addresses multiple global issues such as hunger, poverty, environmental degradation, poor nutrition and subsequent effects such as civil unrest.”

A study by researchers at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) in December 2010 revealed that global warming will cause yields of rice and wheat to fall in all regions of the world by 2050. Engelbrecht explains that the only way to aid African farmers effectively is to run evaluation trials with GM technology and conduct research in each individual territory, as climates and conditions differ from region to region.

“Africa’s countries are characterised by myriad climatic extremes and only through evaluation trials are we able to identify useful genetic traits and manipulate them to produce hardier and higher-yielding seeds. This technology also aids farmers to grow more food with a smaller environmental footprint, as well as produce crops that use water more efficiently and can withstand heat and higher levels of salinity.

“Everything starts with a seed. You can have all of the latest technology and skilled labour in place, but if you don’t have the correct seed your crops will ultimately fail.”

He explains that a evaluation trial in a country takes approximately 12 months. DuPont is currently trialing drought-resistant crop technology in South Africa in Delmas and Prieska as well as in African territories such as Egypt. “Both are perfect trial environments, especially Egypt which receives very limited rainfall.”

According to Engelbrecht, Biotech or GM crops are the fastest adopted crop technology in the history of modern agriculture and countries utilising this technology have increased from 25 in 2009 to 29 as of the end of last year.

“Today, an estimated billion people are food insecure. In Africa alone, 30% of the nearly 840 million people are undernourished. Unless we find better ways to produce and distribute more food that number will only increase.

“The terrible crisis in Somalia has again highlighted the need for developing drought tolerant crops, which are essential to avoiding food production declines in the face of extreme weather conditions, as well as feeding a growing global population in the coming decades,” concludes Engelbrecht.