Genetically Modified Crops: An African Perspective

by Jennifer Thomson

  • Striga (Witchweed) is an African parasitic weed of maize. Non-GM resistant varieties developed and distributed by AATF - see details on website. Problem of herbicide residue getting passed onto intercropped legumes solved by hand washing. Information booklets distributed by AATF. Another problem is getting enough seed - need more private seed companies in Africa!
  • Insect resistant maize huge success in RSA - commercial and smallholders alike - about 90% of crop is Bt and herbicide tolerant. Overcomes problems associated with water often not coming out of taps, and sprays blowing into faces of people spraying (and kids picking up discarded bottles that housed sprays). Also cuts down on mycotoxin contamination post harvest.
  • Bt cowpea being developed in Nigeria and other countries. Fenced field trials = magnet for small kids to climb over, hence need policing!
  • Drought tolerant maize being developed by my lab (amongst many!) using genes from an indigenous resurrection plant Xerophyta viscosa. Possible field trials in USA. Also WEMA project via AATF --> very promising results.
  • Banana transformation developed by IITA in Uganda and Kenya. Amazing work on bacterial wilt already in field trials - TERRIFIC!! Also resistance to nematodes.
  • Smallholder farmers in RSA prefer herbicide tolerance to insect resistance (if they have to choose) as always weeds, not always insects. But prefer both! Major role played in acceptance and understanding by AfricaBio (see website)
  • Beware of lies spread i.e. by Greenpeace on things like human male sterility if eat GM maize.
  • ISAAA (see website) publishes annual uptake of GM crops. Increase currently in developing countries. Fastest growing agricultural technology in history of farming!