OVER five decades ago, the world experienced a striking breakthrough in agriculture, the Green Revolution. This saved at least a billion lives from starvation in Asia and Latin America and included the development of high-yielding varieties of cereal grains, expansion of irrigation infrastructure, and the distribution of hybridised seeds, synthetic fertilizers, and pesticides to farmers. Africa missed this boat.
But a new, albeit very controversial controversial, opportunity has presented itself in the form of genetically modified (GM) foods in recent years.
Genetic modification refers to techniques used to manipulate the genetic composition of an organism by adding specific useful genes. These useful genes could make crops high-yielding, disease resistant or drought-resistant – all particularly useful traits considering a third of Africa’s population lives in drought-prone areas and that there are an increasing number of mouths to feed.
In Africa, there are approximately 265 million undernourished people, translating to one out of every three persons. This is set to increase rapidly – by 2030 the continent will need to feed 1.5 billion people and 2 billion by 2050. This is a monumental challenge for a continent whose food production is highly threatened by environmental fluctuations and land degradation.
Low tech levels in farming
Only 7% of arable land in Africa is irrigated with smallholder farmers depending primarily on rain-fed agriculture. Also consider the huge pressure on its land, with 33 million farms, of less than 2 hectares, accounting for 80% of all farms. Africa also imports products that compete with its own: meat, dairy products, cereals and oils. Imports account for 1.7 times the value of exports.
Enhancing crop yields, instead of increasing cultivated area, to meet the demands of this rapidly growing society are crucial. Yet considering all of these risks, the pace with which African nations are adopting GM foods is lagging.
culled from mail & Guardian Africa