Genetic Modification to boost agricultural productivity in Sub-Saharan Africa

AFRICA – Russian experts have noted that the adoption of genetic modification (GM) technology in the Sub-Saharan African (SSA) region can help overcome most of the challenges related to agricultural productivity and food security.

However, this will be better achieved through a paradigm shift rather than cumulative change. The researchers highlighted how GM technology can help to address SSA’s agricultural challenges.

“The sustainable development goals have a provision for ensuring food security as well as promoting improved nutrition across the world. The inverse relationship of a growing population and dwindling agricultural productivity puts SSA at greater risk of food insecurity,” they said.

According to the researchers, transgenic crops provide a holistic solution to various agricultural challenges instead of finding individual solutions to them.

They pointed out that GM is a tool to address micronutrient deficiency that is debilitating the SSA population, through biofortification, supplementation, and dietary diversification.

Climate change has caused erratic rainfall patterns and high temperatures in SSA causing water stress to crops which makes them more susceptible to pests, said the researchers. To counter these effects, GM technology offers the opportunity to develop crops with high water use efficiency, nutrient use efficiency, and reduce pathogenic infection.

Further, they noted that GM can be an alternative management strategy against pests like the fall armyworm to attain resistance breeding, an essential part of integrated pest management. Gene stacking can delay pest resistance in GM crops by allowing highly effective and durable forms of resistance.

“With the current state of affairs, African farmers cannot compete effectively on the global market with American and Asian producers who enjoy the economic advantages that come with the use of GM crops. As the cost of production reduces and higher yields are achieved as a result of using pest-resistant varieties, the farmers gain leverage to compete on the basis of price on the global market,” said the researchers.

They added that the same could not be said for the SSA farmers who are riddled by high costs of production as well as low yields due to pests and diseases. Adoption of GM technology across the region will be a turning point in SSA agriculture.

GM literacy needed among consumers

In addition, the Russian experts aired that it was necessary to bring the science on GM’s to the consumers and promote genetic literacy among policy makers, as most people do not have sufficient facts of genetic principles to make sustainable choices.

They also urged the governments to invest more in biotechnology by establishing clear policies and regulatory frameworks to boost the confidence in investors and expand projects to benefit all stakeholders.

“Kamanga et al. proposed the establishment of the African Biotech Coalition (ABC), where all stakeholders, be it in the private sector or public sector, collaborate on biotechnology projects taking place on the continent,” revealed the experts.

They expounded that the coalition will have shared objectives such that all the parties involved speak with one voice, thus presenting a coherent argument and clear position to the people.

This will also become instrumental in communicating the ends being sought by the various biotech projects carried out. The coalition will also aid in educating the public on GMs through various communication channels.

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