Calestous Juma, a Professor of the Practice of International Development and Faculty Chair of Innovation for Economic Development Program at Harvard Kennedy School believes that the neglect of agriculture has been a defining feature of Africa’s economic policy over the last four decades. He however concedes that the future is more promising and claims that “today Africa has become a major destination of agricultural foreign direct investment.”
Professor Juma derives his optimism from a variety of new events unfolding in Africa with respect to agriculture. He cites as an example that “Grow Africa, a consortium of foreign firms, has pledged to invest $3.5 billion in eight African countries.”
Ultimately, the Harvard expert in development and with respect to Africa contends that “fostering sustainable agriculture in Africa will require significant investment in infrastructure, technical training (especially for women), creation of regional markets and the use of new technologies.”
Professor Juma begins his argument by claiming that “the use of transgenic crops has reduced the use of active pesticide ingredients by nearly 473 million kg. It also reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 23.1 billion kilograms, the equivalent of taking 10.2 million cars off the road.” He goes on to assert that the world would have needed another 108.7 million hectares of land for the same level of output without transgenic crops. “The benefits to biological diversity from this technology have therefore been invaluable. On the economic front, nearly 15 million farmers and their families, estimated at 50 million people, have benefited from the adoption of transgenic crops,” he stated.
Yet not all the regions of the world are reaping the full benefits of agricultural biotechnology. Of the 28 countries growing transgenic crops, only four (South Africa, Burkina Faso, Egypt, and Sudan) are in Africa.
Despite the initial backlash on the use of biotechnology in food production, African countries have begun to absorb existing biotechnologies and use them to solve local problems.
Professor Juma uses two examples, from Nigeria and Uganda to explain the usefulness of biotechnology in food production in the context of Africa and goes on to claim that more research should be done to reap even greater benefits from agricultural biotechnology.
Whilst I can not argue against the so called benefits of agricultural biotechnology in Nigeria and Uganda, I have my reservations.
For one, the large corporations like Agrisol are not interested in what is best for Africans, but what is most profitable.
Secondly, agriculture employs the majority of Africans most of which can not afford the mechanization and who may have to be displaced to allow for large scale farming. Without an alternative to farming, as it is the case for most farmers at the moment, this will be catastrophic.
Thirdly, there has been cases in Africa where farmers feel as though their hands are tied immediately after using biotechnological farming products. Such farmers claim that, following the use of such products, they have had to stay dependent on them as the land would not grow any more crops without the product (biotechnology).
Lastly (with respect to food production enhancement), the world does not have shortage of food. There is more food in this world than humans can consume. The problem is the distribution of food.