South African scientists call for increased GMO adoption in continent

SOUTH AFRICA – South African scientists are urging governments across the continent to take concrete actions to enhance the acceptability and adoption of genetically modified organisms (GMO) — a move they say could unlock the region’s vast food potential.

The scientists issued their call based on research they conducted in Africa and published in the journal Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering Reviews. They determined that Africa stands to benefit a great deal from biotechnological innovations, such as growing GMO crops.

These include increased yields, better resistance to pests and diseases, enhanced nutrient composition and better food quality. These innovations could help address the recurrent challenges of hunger, malnutrition and food security in many parts of the continent, they note.

The researchers — all based at the University of Johannesburg — identified various critical factors that influence the acceptance and adoption of GMOs in the continent, as reported by Alliance for Science. These include limited knowledge and awareness of GMOs among state actors and the general population, safety considerations, lack of adequate policies and regulatory frameworks that govern GMOS and insufficient political will, coupled with external influence.

“The acceptance and adoption of GMOs on the continent has been remarkably slow, perhaps due to contrasting views about the benefits and safety concerns associated with them. Biotechnology will only be accepted when people understand that GMOs contribute to food security and sustainable development without any known threat to their overall well-being.”

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Bolstering positive consumer attitudes

The authors root for increased public knowledge and awareness about GMOs to shore up favorable consumer attitudes towards GMOs, government regulations and farmers’ adoption of the technology.

A case in point is Kenya, which in the earlier years of the last decade faced public concerns over GMOs and their consequences on health due to inadequate science-based communication on the subject.

The country’s ban on importation of GMOs in November 2012 was influenced in part by the now-disproven study published by Séralini et al. (2012), which falsely claimed GM crops cause cancer, and did not take into account the views of local biosafety experts. Kenya has since moved ahead with GM crops.

Overall, the continent has recorded an increase in GMO awareness. Reports from various countries in Sub-Saharan Africa have noted greater receptivity toward GM crops and an appreciation of the positive values of biotechnology in increasing farmer revenues.

While improved awareness has been shown to drive up the acceptability of GMOs among communities in Africa, the study concedes that this must be addressed concurrently with other factors for optimal results.

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