In the field of biotechnology (biotech), South Africa is the leader in Africa, having realised an economic gain of $1.15-billion between 1998 and 2012 from the use of genetically modified (GM) crops or biotech crops.
This was according to UK MP Owen Paterson, who spoke at the yearly South African agricultural biotechnology industry/International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications media conference in Centurion on Tuesday.
South Africa had grown 2.7-million hectares of maize, soya and cotton crops in 2014, a drop from 2.9-million hectares in 2013, mainly owing to the late onset of rain, lower commodity prices and the adoption rate approaching saturation point.
Despite the drop, the country ranked eighth in the adoption of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) some way behind the first-placed US with 73.1-million hectares. Brazil ranked second with 42.2-million hectares, Argentina was third with 24.3-million hectares and India and Canada ranked fourth, each with 11.5-million hectares.
Meanwhile, promising progress was being made in the rest of Africa with Sudan having increased its biotech cotton hectares by almost 50% to 90 000 ha.
Further, 70% of Burkina Faso’s cotton was grown using biotech, which increased farmers’ yields by, on average, 20% over non-GMO cotton.
Seven African countries – Cameroon, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria and Uganda – had also continued with field trials last year, with a range of biotech crops.
“This is a time of extraordinary opportunity for Africa. Progress in the plant sciences is opening up the promise of the second green revolution, one that can not only feed the 9-billion to 10-billion people that will inhabit our planet by 2050, but feed them well,” said Paterson.
Feeding the World
He noted that there were 870-million chronically hungry people globally, the majority of whom were in sub-Saharan Africa, and GM crops or biotech crops could help alleviate global hunger by 2050.
He revealed that GM crops had produced an additional 441.4-million tons of food, fibre and feed on existing crop land, in the last 18 years, adding that an additional 132-million hectares of conventional crops would have been required to produce the same tonnage.
Last year, 18-million farmers, of which 90% were small and poor, planted a record 181-million hectares of biotech crops in 28 countries and GMO versions of food staples ¬– such as potatoes in the US and eggplant in Bangladesh ¬– had been approved for planting.
Between 1996 and 2013, the total economic benefits for industrial countries were $65.2-billion and $10.1-billion for developing countries.
Between 1996 and 2012, 500-million kilograms of active pesticide ingredients were saved and, in 2013, carbon dioxide emissions were reduced by 28-million kilograms, which is equivalent to removing 12-million cars off the road for a year.
Paterson adds that, although humanitarian and environmental groups have disputed the use of GM technology on crops, studies have shown that GM technology adoption has reduced chemical pesticide use by 37%, increased crop yields by 22% and boosted farmer profits by 68%.
“It is a revolution, powered by cutting-edge science, that can drive economic development from the bottom up. No place on Earth holds more promise than Africa. With its vast and as yet underused resources of land, soil, water and sun, Africa is wonderfully situated to match or exceed the success of Brazil – a nation that agricultural development helped catapult into the front ranks of world trade – but it will only happen if African countries embrace farming systems based on modern technologies,” he said.