Jury still out on GMOs

Marrakesh, 10 October, 2014 (ECA) –  Experts attending the Climate conference in Marrakech, Morocco have restated Africa’s capacity to feed itself now and in the future without genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

They however warned that it will require increased investment in climate change research, development and innovation to make technology accessible and affordable for farmers, to enhance opportunities for easy access to agricultural finance and insurance, to facilitate trading and access to markets at all levels, and to create an enabling environment for private sector investment in the agricultural value chain.

Ms. Olushola Olayide, representative of the Africa Union Commission at the conference, stated that the absence of an official AU position on GMOs does not manifestly translate into an endorsement of the organisms as “the continent has recorded good success stories in local food production and conservation methods in Benin and Malawi. Such efforts are currently being up-scaled in Africa, and that will comfortably feed Africa.”

For Mr. Abdalla Hamdok, the Deputy Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), the GMO issue is “a debatable one as they are problems in addressing biodiversity and loss but its potential to create enhancement in productivity cannot be discountenanced.”

Civil Society Concerns

Mithika Mwenda of the Pan-African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA), representing more than 800 African civil society organizations including small scale farmers, faith-based organizations and indigenous peoples at the Marrakech conference, declared emphatically that Africa can only feed Africa when we translate words into action, put in place mechanisms and frameworks aimed at putting more money into agriculture in line with the Abuja Declaration, and ensure extensive implementation of the

CAADP framework as well as integrate climate change adaptation strategies into agriculture.

According to Mwenda, African civil society is concerned about GMOs because the interest of the multinationals promoting them is at variance with the long-term interests of African farmers. “GMOs constitute a threat to the survival of smallholder farmers across Africa as [they] will create more poverty and food insecurity.”

FAO Warning

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations recently warned African countries against the use of genetically modified organisms, insisting they are not needed to improve food production and may not be suitable for many countries in Africa.

According to Jose Graziano da Silva, FAO Director General: “Our position as FAO is not that we are against GMOs, but we are saying we don’t need them now.” He further expressed concerns about the impact of GMOs on the environment as “we don’t know what will happen to areas of production and the crops.” He added: “It is risky for continents whose crops have GMOs. We want to ensure that proper security measures related to environment contamination are taken.”

GMOs are organisms whose genetic material have been altered using genetic engineering techniques and those modified include micro-organisms such as bacteria, yeast, insects, plants, fish and mammals.

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