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AfricaMoney | October 18, 2017

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African technology

African technology, agriculture must sync genetic codes

African agriculture is crying out for help. Is technology listening? Even as genetically modified (GM) crops are slow to gain popularity amid traditional cultivation, the challenges of separate biosafety regulations across African countries are making it even tougher for these new-age crops to take root. (Image: Indiana Department of Labor / Agriculture safety)

African agriculture is crying out for help. Is technology listening? Even as genetically modified (GM) crops are slow to gain popularity amid traditional cultivation, the challenges of separate biosafety regulations across African countries are making it even tougher for these new-age crops to take root.

Recently, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) launched its inaugural report on the state of African agriculture. The report states that, on anaverage, about 65% of Africa’s labor force is employedin agriculture, yet the sector accounts for about 32% ofGDP, reflecting relatively low productivity.

The report adds that despite potential advantages on both productivity and job-creation fronts, adoption of GM crops in Africa has been slow and marredby controversy. At present, only four African countries— Burkina Faso, Egypt, Sudan, and South Africa—have fully commercialized GM crops.This means that Africa continues to face the enormous challenge of delivering nutritious, safe, and affordable food to a growing global population that is projected to reach 9 billion people by 2050.

Also, as there are different challenges in developing successful biosafety regulatory frameworks across Africa, African countries could implement a shared and centralized approach like the one used in the European Union in order to overcome challenges brought by genetically modified organisms (GMO) based products.

This centralized approach could be helpful in balancing existing biosafety policies with new ones to support GMO regulation across Africa and from these policies, there will be more protection on health and environment.

While consumers are not aware of products based on genetically modified organisms(GMOs), they can no longer avoid this technologybecause of the rapid introduction of GMOs products in many countries.

The use of GMOs in plant and animal biology is not a new idea and there has been a great concern about the possible negative effects of its introduction to existing agricultural sources.

There are both pros and cons of GMO products. The benefits obtained from these products are: a better taste, more nutrients, and the production of crops are faster according to the Office of Science at the U.S Department of Energy. It is also advantageousto farmers as they can then legitimately lay claim to producing more nutritious food.

Side effects of GMO products are a negative impact on health, as theytrigger allergies, interaction with other genes, and resistance to antibiotics. Also, no one knows yet what the effects of mixing genes are on animals or the environment.

According to a study in this month’s issue of Food policy, it is important to have a GMOs risk analysis and biosafety regulation.

The study also stated that despite the introduction of GMOs two decades ago in Africa, there is a lack of agreement on ways to regulate, develop and use GMOs which gives reasons to why technology needs to improve food security in Africa.

For the island economy, in spite of controversy, a GMO Bill was voted in at the National Assembly of Mauritius. This GMO Bill intends at regulating the arrival of GMOs on the island, controlling their use and inflicting deterrent principles.

To improve Mauritius’s agricultural effectiveness, biotechnology will be used and this will give better protection for consumers, environment and biodiversity.

In Egypt and Tunisia, there is a complete lack of biosafety laws with no risk assessments of GMOs.In Kenya, biosafety laws are in progress. However, the East African economy is facing challenges relating to politicization of the biosafety debate, with strong anti-GMO campaigns, and those views enabled some politicians to increase popularity.

In West African countries such as Ghana, the biosafety laws have been accepted and in Nigeria, the approval is still anticipated. Limited local scientific expertise for risk analysis of GMOs undertaking field trials is a core issue in Ghana.

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