A detailed new report by an academic at the Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, UK, concludes GM crops do not address the real causes of poverty and hunger in Africa.

It draws its conclusions from a careful analysis of flagship projects in the area: Monsanto's GM cotton in the Makhitini Flats in South Africa, the Syngenta Foundation's GM maize project in Kenya, and another Kenyan project with GM sweet potatoes involving Monsanto and USAID.

The report notes how such showcase projects have little to do with their suitability or effectiveness for African farmers but appear rather to be part of a PR strategy by the biotech industry to reduce regulatory and public resistance to its products worldwide.

"There has been a great deal of excitement over these new engineered crops despite their low suitability. The maximum gains from genetic modification are small, much lower than with either conventional breeding or agroecology-based techniques. The heavy publicity may be due to the politicized international debates about genetically engineered crops. In particular, biotechnology firms have been eager to use philanthropic African projects for public relations purposes. Such public legitimacy may be needed by companies in their attempts to reduce trade restrictions, biosaftey controls, and monopoly regulations."

The full report, "Genetically Modified Crops and Sustainable Poverty Alleviation in Sub-Saharan Africa: An Assessment of Current Evidence", can be downloaded as a pdf from here:
GMOs Not Answer to Poverty/Hunger in Africa - New Study
Third World Network-Africa
(Accra) June 24, 2003
Cornelius Adedze
Accra, Ghana

A new study released by Third World Network-Africa ( offers new evidence against claims of the miracle potential of genetically modified crops for dealing with famine and poverty in Africa.

After examining the impact of three genetically modified crops, sweet potato, maize and Bt cotton, on poverty alleviation in Africa it concluded that biotechnology does not address the real causes of poverty and hunger in Africa. Indeed it shows that biotechnology is an inappropriate method of agricultural innovation for poverty alleviation.

The global controversy about GM crops swept across Africa late last year when famine-hit Zambia and some other southern African countries rejected GM grain on health, ecologically and other grounds in the face of intense pressure from the USA. Only last month US President George Bush threw his weight behind his country's biotechnology industry by repeating their claims that GM crops held the key to solving Africa's famine and poverty. He also accused European nations of "impeding" US efforts to reduce hunger in Africa by opposing the use of GM crops.

The new study titled "Genetically Modified Crops and Sustainable Poverty Alleviation in Sub-Saharan Africa: An Assessment of Current Evidence", by Aaron deGrassi, of the Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, UK, assessed experience with genetically modified sweet potato and maize in Kenya as well as Bt cotton in South Africa.

The study focused on, 'examining the current potential of those genetically modified crops that, according to proponents of genetic engineering, hold the most promise for alleviating hunger, poverty and environmental degradation in Sub-Saharan Africa' and concluded that the answer to Africa's poverty and food shortage problems does not lie in biotechnology.

The findings reveal that GM crops do not offer any answers to soil fertility, resistance to genes by pests among other problems faced by the farmers of the three crops. It also clear that biotechnology is not the answer to corruption, declining commodity prices, inequality in land distribution and ownership, income disparities, and armed conflicts which are some of the major cause of poverty/hunger in Africa.

DeGrassi puts the three crops to five widely accepted criteria for evaluating conventional crop breeding, namely, demand-led, site-specific, poverty-focussed, cost-effective and environmentally and institutionally sustainable tests. From all these tests it came out that the innovations fail totally as the study found out that the specific needs of the poor farmer were not taken into consideration nor were the farmers consulted. Again they fail the other criteria tests because they are not cost effective, environmentally friendly and generally unsustainable. The result being that the agro-ecological and socio-economic conditions of the farmers were not taken into consideration but rather the commercial interests of such biotech companies as Monsanto and Syngenta which support the projects with a view to taking hold of the seed market in Africa.

The anticipated maximum national increases, according to the researchers, in sweet potato production in Kenya, (18%), cotton production in South Africa, (27%), and maize production in Kenya, (13%) also shows a negative rate of return when one considers the amounts pumped into the projects. Natural conventional crop breeding methods which cost much less and produce better results have failed to attract attention from both African governments and ever willing biotech companies like Monsanto and Syngenta.

More alarming also is the amount of money earmarked for these crop innovations when cotton and sweet potato are not major crops in Africa or in the areas where the innovations were carried out and thus will not in any way solve Africa's poverty/hunger problems. Meanwhile the GM sweet potato introduced in Kenya does not address the major problems farmers have with the crop, which is weevils. With maize, the Bt maize introduced does do away with the specific stem borer that affects maize in Kenya. In the same way, the Bt cotton introduced in South Africa is meant to resist the American bollworm whereas in South Africa it is the pink bollworm that affects cotton production.

On the basis of all this evidence Genetically Modified Crops and Sustainable Poverty Alleviation in Sub-Saharan Africa concludes that, 'genetic modification may constitute a novel tool but it is a relatively ineffective and expensive one in Africa,' and supports the call by a South African commentator that, 'There are better ways to feed Africa than GM crops.'

* Genetically Modified Crops and Sustainable Poverty Alleviation in Sub-Saharan Africa: An Assessment of Current Evidence, by Aaron deGrassi is available at