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Implications of GM crops in subsistence-based agricultural systems in Africa

Aheto, D.W., Bøhn, T., Breckling, B., van den Berg, J., Ching, L.L. and Wikmark, O.-G.


Africa has deep contentions on the use of GM crops in agriculture, similar to those found in Europe and elsewhere. However, it is apparent that the debate is most protracted on the continent with two entrenched viewpoints i.e. the pro-GMO and anti-GMO groups. The challenge for an acceptable consensus is attributable to a complexity of issues relative to the introduction of GM maize into small-scale farming systems that fundamentally relies on open pollinated varieties (OPVs) with broad genetic backgrounds and tolerance to diverse biotic stresses, and which is usually produced for the informal seed market. Other factors relate to the generally low capacity of African states and weak mechanisms for assessing the potential risks posed by GM crops. The lack of public awareness, participation and information sharing are additional limiting factors.

These issues have weakened government and policy responses to the potential deployment of GM crops on the continent. This review draws on research-based evidence as a basis to comment on some key issues to inform the development of biosafety standards in African countries. We conclude that the potential introduction of GM crops into small-scale farming would lead to huge consequences from emerging ecological, economic and trade impacts if these issues raised are not taken into account in decision making processes.

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Co-existence challenges in small-scale farming when farmers share and save seeds

Bøhn, T., Aheto, D.W., Mwangala, F.S., Bones, I.L., Simoloka, S., Mbeule, I., Wikmark, O.-G., Schmidt,G. and Chapela, I.


Gene flow by means of pollen and seeds in maize influences local, regional and global maize biodiversity. Developing countries are centers of diversity for maize and preserve seeds also in informal seed systems. Particularly in poor communities, seed saving and sharing often co-occur with farming on small fields. We present preliminary investigations from a small-scale maize farming community, in Chongwe, Zambia, to illustrate the significance of seed saving and sharing for patterns of gene flow. The potential introduction of genetically modified (GM) plants brings in new dimensions of challenges for farmers e.g. related to: i) co-existence of GM and non-GM varieties; ii) potential infringement of intellectual property rights; and iii) trans-boundary movement of products to countries that do not accept certain GM products. Small-scale farming is vulnerable to cross-contamination due to limited separation between fields. If transgenes are introduced into small-scale agricultural contexts, uncontrolled diffusion and further spread seems unavoidable. Removal of transgenes as well as the regulatory implications of transgenes would require control of innumerable small informal seed stores kept by farmers.

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