May 18, 2022
 
  • by:
  • Source: FreePressers
  • 07/08/2019
Editor’s Note: This article is part of an ongoing series on food security around the world.

African countries have long maintained some of the strictest regulations on genetically modified agriculture, with only four out of 47 countries across the continent allowing the planting of any genetically modified crops. Some countries, including Kenya and Nigeria, are mulling looser restrictions on imports and cultivation of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, but those moves will have limited significance for food security, says Robert Paarlberg, an adjunct professor of public policy at Harvard University who specializes in global food and agricultural policy. In an interview, he explains why African countries maintain a cautious approach toward GMOs and why that is unlikely to change anytime soon. The following transcript has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

World Politics Review: Where has your research led you in terms of your views on biotechnology in agriculture, especially on the use of genetically modified crops?

Robert Paarlberg: It’s been a fascinating issue to study over the years. Even though there haven’t been any new risks from GMOs documented by science, the opponents of GMO foods have won nearly every struggle. There are very few crops and products grown for direct human consumption. There are GMO industrial crops being grown around the world, like [genetically modified, pest-resistant] Bt cotton, and there are GMO animal feed crops being grown around the world, like yellow maize and soybeans. Some derivative ingredients from those crops, like soybean oil and corn starch, do enter into the human food supply. But foods that are designed for direct human consumption are only being grown in a few places in GMO form. 

WPR: Is that also the state of play in the developing world, especially in Africa, where food insecurity is a prevalent issue in many countries?

Paarlberg: Yes, African farmers are struggling with low yields and susceptibility to crop diseases, insects, pests and drought. There are genetically modified crops out there that are available to help them, but it’s not legal in most African countries to plant these crops, or even to do research on these crops. Only four out of 47 countries in Africa have made it legal to plant any GMO crops at all: South Africa, Burkina Faso, Sudan and Nigeria. And for all of those except South Africa, the only crop that’s allowed to be planted is Bt cotton, which is an industrial crop, not a food crop, so it’s not going to do much for food security.

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