Can GMOs deliver for Africa?

This paper surveys the current status of GM crops and where the technology is heading. It then analyzes how the currently dominant crops and traits have not delivered as hoped for developing country farmers and consumers, while technologies under development could be more beneficial. It then turns to an examination of the constraints to exploiting agricultural biotechnology for development in Africa. The debate over genetically modified organisms (GMOs) has been raging for twenty years and there is still more heat than light around the topic. While some developing countries have embraced the technology, much of Africa followed the European Union’s precautionary approach. Up to now, the implications of those decisions for smallholder agriculture and basic food security have not been huge because multinational corporations developed the current generation of GMOs with large-scale, industrial agriculture in mind. The major GM crops—herbicide tolerant or insect resistant varieties of soybeans and maize—are used mainly for livestock feed and biofuels, and grown primarily in a handful of countries in North and South America that are major commodity exporters. Only cotton genetically-modified to resist certain insects has been widely adopted in developing countries, mainly in India and China.