Genetically Modified Food in Africa- A Solution or threat?

The application of Genetic Engineering otherwise known as Genetic Manipulation or Modification has been suggested by many as a way of coping with the high level of food insecurity in Africa.

For decades, African governments have not been welcoming to the technology of Genetically Modified (GM) Foods. A good example is Zambia who went on an all out ban on GM foods from the UN’s World Food Programme in August 2003.

With an ever growing population rate, food security is one of the tasking challenges for African nations.  The recurrent famines ravaging certain nations of the continent have largely been blamed on African governments, for not embarking on programs that would enhance food production in order to respond to the high population needs in a sustainable way.

True to speak, in terms of production, African species are  noted as being constituted of poor genetic potential, which accounts for the continent’s pathetic state in animal production, and in turn making it hard to cope in such demanding realities. It was for this reason that the so called ban on GM foods in Zambia was hurriedly lifted in December 2005, as the country was incapable of feeding its famine ridden citizens. Zambia finally had to accept the importation of GM food aid in spite of the strong resistance to GM foods from advocates, who believe that GM foods are prone to reducing disease immunity.

Observers of African progress have pinpointed that importation might not be the right solution to solve Africa’s problems on the long run, highlighting that importation might rather take its financial toll on the continent.

What Africa really needs is to enhance its agricultural system and learn to produce its own genetically engineered products. For instance, protein energy malnutrition has been a menace over the decades in Africa. Majority of Africa’s food producing species are incapable of coping with such a massive population explosion as most animal species in Africa either have low production rate (e.g. milk from dairy cattle) or fail to attain table (slaughter) weight within a short period of time. This leaves the Agricultural sector unable to respond to the national needs for animal produces, let alone to compete in international market, since it reduces the profit margin as well as ties up capital for an unwanted duration of time.

African governments need to boost the genetic makeup of its animals in order to ensure a short regeneration interval. This can be achieved through Genetic Engineering.

Tropical climate helps promote the growth of disease carrying pathogens. Food animals must thus show a high level of resistance to most of tropical born diseases. It has been observed over the years that animals brought in from temperate countries do not thrive well on African soil, which has its own impact on productivity. Upgrading Africa’s indigenous stock might be a solution but natural upgrading takes a long time to yield the desired results. Genetic engineering holds the key to this as genetic material (DNA) can be altered to yield the desired traits.  This is steps ahead of natural or selective breeding as it takes a shorter time to achieve commercial results. In addition, Genetic engineering increases the sources of acquiring desired genes, unlike natural breeding which is done within species, since genetic material can be transferred from one organism into another even in the case of non related species.

Globally, in terms of crop production, genetic engineering is already a household name in providing production of higher yielding or disease resistant crops. Consumer resistance might be an initial hindrance. Although Africans are still of the opinion that things should be done naturally and frown at genetically modified foods, proper awareness needs to be created as past experiences have shown that change is a gradual process. In addition, the gross misconception of classifying GM animals as clones must be addressed as both are not the same. It might be worth adding that despite the clone scare, clones have been deemed safe for consumption.

The need for African governments to embrace more advanced ways of improving the dismal state of food production in the continent can not be over emphasized as this would reduce Africa’s dependency on foreign imported animal and crop produce. This on the long run would be beneficial to the African economy as it would increase marginal cost benefits thus increasing the net profit of the African farmer.

Jovi Otite

Jovi Otite (Ph.d) is the co-founder of BornBlack. He is an Animal Science Expert in Animal Reproduction, agriculture and alternative renewable energy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *