It’s possible for genetically modified (GM) maize to increase average yield by as much as 20%.
This is the conclusion pro-company AfricaBio reached after extensive five-year field trials, which found that emerging farmers on 53 different demonstration sites in six provinces considerably increased their white maize yield using only Bt technology to fight stalkborer.
The project was headed by AfricaBio in partnership with Nafu, Buhle Farmers’ Academy, Cedara Agricultural College and provincial agriculture departments. It demonstrated the benefits that stalkborer-resistant white maize could hold for emerging farmers, and the rural economies they support, to 2 048 small-scale farmers, over 184 extension officers and 75 agricultural decision-makers.
The research shows that over the past five years cob damage by stalkborer averaged just 0,6% in the GM maize plots compared with over 14% in the conventional plots. “Reports of increased yield with maize are not only forthcoming from emergent farmers trained by AfricaBio,” said the project manager and chairperson of AfricaBio, Dr David Keetch, “This amounts to food security and alleviating poverty.”
GM technology has its critics. Leslie is the director of Biowatch SA, a lobby group offering alternatives to technology. She has argued that since its adoption technology has failed to feed the world’s poor. “There are no drought- or flood-resistant crops, nor nutritionally enhanced crops,” said Liddell.
In South Africa field trials are underway to develop a drought-tolerant maize variety expected for commercial use by 2011.“maize has been grown internationally for over 11 years,” said executive director of AfricaBio Prof Jocelyn Webster. “The approval mechanism for any crop requires extensive testing and independent scientific review of its safety for human health and the environment.”
But Liddell disagrees. She said that the legislation governing technology in South Africa doesn’t make it compulsory for the regulator to consider public objections and comment when permitting GM crops.
“The regulator is also not obliged to consider environmental impact assessments or the potential socioeconomic impact of crops,” she pointed out, adding that labelling of crops and ingredients is not compulsory, and this impedes the monitoring of human health impacts.While Webster admitted that GM technology should not be seen as a silver bullet solution to the world’s food crisis, crops have proven to be a valuable contributor to food security wherever they’re grown. – David Steynberg