Implications and challenges of GM crops in Africa
THIRD WORLD NETWORK BIOSAFETY INFORMATION SERVICE
Dear friends and colleagues,
Re: Implications and challenges of GM crops in Africa
We are pleased to highlight two papers published in a scientific volume on the ecological effects, on a landscape scale, of GM crop cultivation. The papers look at the co-existence challenges in small-scale farming when farmers share and save seed, and the implications of GM crops in subsistence-based agricultural systems in Africa.
The first paper presents preliminary investigations from a small-scale maize farming community in Zambia, to illustrate the significance of seed saving and sharing for patterns of gene flow (Item 1). Given the high density, small sizes and close distances between fields observed, non-GM fields would rapidly be cross-contaminated by pollen flow. Moreover, open pollinated varieties have higher outcrossing rates than hybrids, hence farming practices that use an increasing proportion of open pollinated varieties/landraces will be more vulnerable to cross-contamination by pollen.
The practice of re-using seeds was a common feature among the farmers and was seen as an important part of local food security and independence. The farmers re-used not only local maize varieties, but sometimes also commercial hybrid varieties, linking the formal and informal seed systems. Thus, although transgenes would likely be introduced as commercial hybrid seeds in the formal seed system, they might eventually find their way into the informal seed system. The combination of pollen flow and the tradition to re-using seeds would potentially spread and keep transgenes, if introduced, in circulation from year to year.
The practice of sharing seeds with family members and friends was also common, primarily within the local community. In a GM maize scenario, seed sharing would spread transgenes quickly within the community, and also across communities as exemplified by a farmer sharing seeds up to a distance of 100 km. This would mean that the diffusion of transgenes would not be limited to the community of introduction, but also lead to spread across a larger region.
Both pollen flow between closely positioned maize fields, and sharing of seeds between farmers represent high rates of gene flow. Thus, the paper concludes, if transgenes are introduced into small-scale agricultural contexts, uncontrolled diffusion and further spread seems unavoidable, while removal of transgenes as well as the regulatory implications are highly challenging.
The second paper concludes that the potential introduction of GM crops into small-scale farming in Africa would lead to huge consequences from emerging ecological, economic and trade impacts (Item 2). From an ecological perspective, GM crops would lead to uncontrolled large-scale spread and persistence of transgenes within the small-scale agricultural systems in Africa, with unpredictable recombination and evolution in crop meta-population. Socio-cultural implications relate to intellectual property rights, which threaten traditional seed use patterns. Impurities in harvest would prevent development and export options. Major challenges in regulatory decision-making are envisaged since traceability, administrative regulation and resistance management regimes are difficult to impossible. The paper therefore makes a strong call for a precautionary approach to biosafety in the face of uncertainty.
With best wishes,
Lim Li Ching
Third World Network
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