Johannesburg — South African smallholder farmer Motlasi Musi is not happy with the African Centre for Biosafety’s call for his country and Africa to ban the cultivation, import, and export of all genetically modified maize. “I eat genetically modified maize, which I have been growing on my farm for more than seven years, and I am still alive,” Musi declared.

Motlasi Musi, 57, is a maize farmer in the Fun Valley area of Olifantsvlei, outside Johannesburg, and a beneficiary of South Africa’s Land Redistribution for Agricultural Development program. Musi has embraced the science of biotechnology with delight.

He explained that both his yields and income have changed. Currently, he earns about 225 dollars more per hectare for his GM maize crop than he does when farming ordinary maize.

Musi is also a member of The Truth About Trade & Technology, which on its official website describes itself as “a nonprofit advocacy group led by American farmers – narrowly focused, issue specific – as we support free trade and agricultural biotechnology.” (http://www.truthabouttrade.org/ for more information on the organization). For Musi, GM maize is helping reduce food insecurity in South Africa.

Also, he supports GMO because he believes that  drought-tolerant seeds will allow him to fight the change in climate. Rain patterns have become increasingly unpredictable a phenomenon that attributed to global warming.

A report in April 2012 by the Climate Emergency Institute (http://www.climate-emergency-institute.org/) titled “The Impact of Climate Change on South Africa” stated that the country is experiencing a gradual, yet steady, change in climate with temperatures showing a significant increase over the last 60 years. Temperatures in South Africa are predicted to rise in costal regions by one to two degrees Celsius by 2050.

However, the African Center for Biosafety does not believe that GMOs can deliver food security on the continent, specifically in South Africa, a leading African producer of GMOs.

ACB is behind an African Civil Society statement that has been calling for a ban on GM maize in South Africa and on the continent, which it hopes to submit to African governments. About 656 signatures have been collected so far on the online statement, including those of 160 African organizations.

South Africa has been cultivating, importing and exporting GM crops for 14 years now with absolutely no impact on food security whatsoever, ACB says. The organization claims that in fact, a bag of maize meal is 84 percent more expensive than it was four or five years ago due to international prices and the extensive use of maize for biofuel production.

GMOs in Africa

In recent years, the affordability and availability of food has come under unprecedented pressures. Some people see genetically modified crops as playing a big part in helping solve these problems.

South Africa is one of only three countries in Africa, along with Burkina Faso and Egypt, currently planting commercialized GM crops. Nigeria, Kenya and Uganda are currently conducting field trials, while six African countries have enabling biosafety laws allowing the safe development and commercialization of GM products.

Critics of GMO agree that there is a need to improve access to food but claim that this should be done by addressing poverty, unemployment, and issues around land tenure, service delivery, infrastructure, access to markets, and unfair global trade practices. Genetically modified food has never been labeled in South Africa so there is no way to know if it is causing health problems, and opponents are calling for a rigorous scientific study into the health implications of GM food.

Opponents of GMO crops have argued that hunger in Africa is used as an excuse to contaminate and erode genetic diversity on the continent.

Speaking to IPO, one opponent explained, “It is all about market colonization.” “GM crops would neither produce food security nor meet nutrition deficits. The way forward is food sovereignty – Africans must determine what crops are suitable culturally and environmentally. Up to 80 percent of our food needs are met by smallholder farmers. Smallholder farmers need support and inputs for integrated agro-ecological crop management. Africa should ideally be a GMO-free continent.”

Friends of the Earth International cites failed GMO experiments in Africa with Bt cotton in Burkina Faso and South Africa where they had been advertised as the crops to pull smallholder farmers out of poverty.

Global developer and supplier of plant genetics, including hybrid seed, DuPont Pioneer, said that the effect of switching from saved seed to hybrid seed is dramatic.

The company’s vice president responsible for Asia, Africa and China, Daniel Jacobi, told IPS that of the 24 million hectares of maize planted annually in sub-Saharan Africa, about a third was hybrid seed.

Furthermore, farmers get a fuller yield from hybrid seeds by using fertilizer and agronomic practices, reducing post-harvest losses and getting the crop to market, he maintained.

Meanwhile, Musi remained unhappy about the call to ban GM maize. “Africans should come to a realization that all this is happening in the name of contraceptive imperialism. Africa missed out during the Green Revolution – we must not miss the Gene Revolution. Let Africans decide for Africa,” he said.