GENET archive


9-Misc: GE debate in South Africa

-------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  Modified crops: the pros and cons
SOURCE: Pretoria News, South Africa, by Bruce Venter
DATE:   15 Jul 2004

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Modified crops: the pros and cons

Genetically modified (GM) food is expected to provide a solution to
Africa's food crisis, but experts have raised concerns, saying that GM
crops are not necessarily economically viable for small-scale farmers.

GM crops are currently grown commercially in more than 40 countries, with
over 110-million ha under cultivation.

Insect and herbicide resistant soyabeans, cotton and maize are the
favoured GM crops, while a sweet potato resistant to a virus capable of
destroying Africa's entire harvest is set to sprout on the continent.

As GM technology improves, farmers will be able to cultivate bananas
capable of producing human vaccines against infectious diseases and fruit
trees that yield fruit years earlier.

GM technology may be invaluable in developing economies, especially in
Africa where drought and disease-resistant crops can boost production for
struggling small-scale farmers.

However, the environmental action group Biowatch has warned that GM
technology may not be that fertile, saying it is not cost-effective to
small-scale African farmers struggling to find western markets for their

South Africa is the only African country which currently commercially
produces GM crops, with cotton, maize and soya in production.

Farmers said that the main benefit of growing insect-resistant cotton was
the saving on pesticides, especially in combating a type of moth
caterpillar, known as "bollworm", that destroys cotton balls.

Koot Louw of Cotton South Africa (CSA) said that 70% of the country's
cotton production was from genetically altered seeds.

He said GM crops allowed for improved crop risk management.

Elfrieda Pschorn-Strauss of Biowatch disagrees, saying savings on
pesticides are not that attractive.

"Reduced pesticide costs promised by the GM crop are attractive, but they
still have to spray pesticides to keep other pests away," she said.

According to Louw, GM seed remains cost-effective. He said 3 000 small-
scale and 1 000 commercial farmers were planting GM seed.

Not so, argues Pschorn-Strauss.

"Small-scale farmers are already trapped in a cycle of debt due to
recurring drought and they now have to pay exorbitant amounts in
technology fees for GM seed," she said.

A spokesman for a GM seed supplier said technology fees for farmers on
irrigated land was R750 for a 25kg bag of seed.

Dry-land farmers pay R350.

"Farmers have a choice as to what seed they purchase ... they are not
forced to use GM seed," he said.

The company also produces ordinary seed, which costs half the price.

Despite this, only 10% of the cotton produced in the country during 2002/
2003 was harvested by small-scale farmers.

According to Louw, producing cotton for export is not viable.

"We cannot compete with the subsidised crop produced in advanced
countries," he said.

South Africa only manages to produce roughly 50% of its 70 000-ton annual
cotton requirement, importing the rest from Zambia and Zimbabwe, despite
the advantages of GM seed.

Limpopo cotton farmer, Sass Koggel, is not convinced of the advantages of
GM seed.

"GM seed may offer an increased yield and pest-resistant crop, much of
which is yet to be proven beyond doubt, but companies producing GM seed
remain quiet about the disadvantages," he said.

Koggel questions the environmental impact of GM seed.

"What happens in the event of cross-pollination, if modified genes
transfer into the natural system; what will that do to our environmental
bio-diversity?" he asked.

Benefits of GM crops
Increased crop yield
Improved resistance to herbicides and disease
Innovative products and agricultural techniques
Increased food security for developing countries
Enhanced quality of processed crop

Controversies over GM crops
Unintended transfer of modified genes into natural system
Increased dependence on industrialised nations by developing countries
Foreign exploitation of natural resources
Violation of a natural organism's intrinsic value
Domination of food production by select few.


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