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Discussion on whether adoption of genetic modified crops can fully address and eradicate food and nutrition insecurity in Afric

by Kimani Joseph Gicho MSc Student Agricultural and Applied Economics University Of Nairobi, Kenya

The challenge is here with us since there is growing population in Africa and there is need to increase food production and therefore we have to think outside the norm and seek ways to address food production. The challenge of food insecurity is linked to factors that contributing to it such as

  • Scarce land resource, water challenges
  • Climate change
  • Pest , weeds and diseases
  • Post-harvest losses

This discussion will therefore examine the potential input in addressing this challenges, some of which can be addressed by Genetic Modification of plants. It is well known that the producer is focused on the quantity of output they get and how much production they get through their farming activities, while the consumer is concerned with what they get in terms of quality of the produce. A large population in Africa is experiencing hunger and many children are suffering from malnutrition due to lack of macronutrients.

An approach that was recommended by Royal Society of UK ‘Reaping Benefits Report’ advocated for Sustainable Intensification in Agriculture having greater yield per input, per hectare.

Though genetic yield potential is increasing on different crop varieties commercial yield seems to be stagnant (FAO, 2020). This is attributed to growing population such that we are producing at the same levels and yet we are increasing in number so there is pressure on the same amount of food.

According to the EU, GMO is the official term used to identify plants that have undergone genetic manipulation, through plant breeding technology used for commercial purposes involving insertion of DNA sequences that do not occur naturally in its genome.

This is an opportunity that Africa can tap into through biotechnology, and capacity building to see what can be achieved.

YIELD GAPS AND CROP IMPROVEMENTS

Potential Yield – This is the maximum yield that can be achieved when specific growing conditions are present and favour crop growth.

Actual Yield – This is the yield that is harvested by the farmer at the end of a season.

Yield Gap – This is the difference between the potential yield and actual yield produced.

Ceteris paribus, % Yield Gap =

Therefore to identify the contributing factors to the yield gaps will give us an upper hand in identifying factors or agronomic traits in the specific plants that can be altered to increase actual yield and improve quality in produce.

CONTRIBUTING FACTORS TO YIELD GAPS THAT GM CROPS CAN ADRESS

  • Pest and invasive insect species e.g. Fall army worm and maize stalk borer in maize.
  • Crop diseases such as cassava mosaic virus in Cassava
  • Weeds and invasive plant species e.g. striga weed in maize
  • Post-harvest losses due to perishability e.g. tomatoes, fruits rotting

GM CROPS SOLUTION

For the insects, pest the introduction of Bt Protein in maize such as Bt Maize varieties, this will offer a solution in reducing the effects of crop losses in maize. The presence of this protein is effective in ensuring insect resistance. Study on improved genes that can fight fall army worm, maize stalk borers, grass hoppers and locusts that lead to crop loss

Advantages of GM- Insect Resistance Crops

  • Reduces cost of spraying and ensures the crops have seasonal protection
  • Environmental friendly since there is minimum use of pesticides and insecticides that cause pollution.
  • Persistence of the insecticidal protein throughout the plants life therefore.
  • Minimal crop losses therefore minimizes the yield gaps.

The BT maize variety has undergone trials in Kenya under CIMMYT and it shows potential yield improvements therefore it should be adopted to increase production and consequently addressing food insecurity since for such a cereal it is highly depended upon as a major source of starch.

GM crops can address the challenge of crop diseases in the food crops such as it has been used in management of Cassava Mosaic virus and such strategies can be used to address gaps in the yield brought about by plant diseases.

For large and medium scale production weeds are estimated to lower crops output by 25%, this has a negative effect on crop yields due to competition of water and nutrients therefore introduction of Herbicide Tolerant in crops through genetic engineering can offer a solution to utilise a multi based and spraying the weeds with a broad spectrum herbicides that eliminate weeds and minimize use of tillage of land thereby encouraging conservation agriculture. (CGIAR)

For the post-harvest losses, contribution of GM crops that ensure there is a longer shelf life of the produce such longer ripening time in tomatoes and reduce the rotting in turn giving it more time of storage.

Other contribution of GM crops agronomic traits

  • Drought tolerant crop species that can do well in warm conditions.
  • Salt tolerance for crops to adapt to salty soil conditions
  • Nutrients use efficiency that ensures uptake of nutrients is not hindered by microbial activities, photosynthesis enhancement in wheat crops.

ADVANTAGES OF GM CROPS

  • Minimal use of pesticides therefore quality of food is ensured since there are Minimum Residual levels to be observed in the Global GAP’S though in this case crops will be free from pests and diseases therefore we can address this challenge by using GM crops.
  • Higher resistance to bacterial, fungal and viral diseases thereby minimizing crop loss resulting from diseases.
  • International Standards of testing are rigorous thus if there is presence of health hazards in the food products the produce is not allowed to enter the market.
  • More nutrition availability in the crop produce such as Golden Rice Project Rice that is more nutritious and Nerica rice.
  • Lowering the cost of production by a certain proportion since the cost of farm management is lower compared to conventional faming.
  • Encourages conservation tillage through use of broad spectrum herbicides that control weeds.
  • Lowering post-harvest losses by increasing the shelf life of produce.

Therefore GM crops if well adopted can offer part of the solution to address food insecurity though not addressing the challenges fully.

CHALLENGES FACING ADOPTION OF GM CROPS

  • Ethical issues related to GM crops
  • Intellectual Property rights managements
  • Government Policies and willingness to invest in infrastructure for biotechnology to develop GM crops.
  • Low levels of education among the famers
  • Small scale production problem
  • Myths and misconceptions among African Farmers

REFERENCES

Cohen JI, Paarlberg R. Unlocking crop biotechnology in developing countries- a report from the field. World Dev (2004);32(9):1563-77.

FAO. (2021). The state of food insecurity in the world FAO.

Huang J, Rozell S, Pray C, Wang Q. Plant biotechnology in China. Science (2002);295: 674-7.

ISAAA (2012). Annual report Executive Summary.

Lesney MS. The garden of Dr. Moreau: plant biotechnology as a chemical enterprise. Genetically modified foods are the fore-runners of designer chemical plants. Todays Chem Work 1999:8(6):28-33.

Morris ML, Hoisington D. Bringing the benefits of biotechnology to the poor: the role of the CGIAR centers. In Qaim M, Krattiger AF, von Braun J, editors. Agricultural Biotechnology in Developing countries: Towards Optimizing the benefits for the Poor. Boston, MA: Kluwer Academic Publishers;( 2000). p. 327-56.

OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development). Accessing agriculture biotechnology in emerging economics. Paris, France: OECD; (2003).

United Nations (1999). World Population Prospects: The 1998 Revision, New York

 

 

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