GMO crop area in SA rises, slow growth for Africa

South Africa’s genetically modified crop area for the 2010/11 season rose 6% but perceptions make it hard for other African countries to adopt the practice, the deputy agriculture minister said on Thursday.

South Africa, the world’s seventh-largest producer of GM crops but Africa’s biggest, has seen a rapid increase in gene-altered crop output since it started growing GM farm produce in 1998.

But despite the need for more food, some African countries including Zimbabwe and Zambia have banned GMO imports, fearing they could be harmful to humans and animals.

“I think there is progress [in the adoption of GM crops], but I know there is a lot of perceptions that make it difficult,” Pieter Mulder said.

“Of course we must be alert and responsible in the development of GM crops ... but if we are really serious about food security in Africa, emotional propaganda about these issues will never get us there.”

South Africa’s genetically modified crop area rose to 2,3-million hectares in the 2010/11 season from 2,16-million hectares in the season before, an industry report showed.

African countries have come under increased pressure to grow more food due to rising hunger and malnutrition caused by lower food production.

The land area cultivated for maize was 1,9-million hectares, while genetically modified soya beans were produced on 390 000 hectares and cotton on 15 000 hectares, the report issued by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) showed.

The report showed that Egypt, the second country in Africa to plant GM maize, saw an increase in its crop area to 2 000 hectares from 1 000 hectares in the previous season.

Burkina Faso, which started growing GM cotton in 2008, recorded an area of 260 000 hectares, from 115 000 hectares in the season before.

Maize for biofuel
South Africa harvested its biggest maize crop in three decades in the 2009/10 season, leaving it with a surplus of about four million tonnes for export and alternative uses.

The government unveiled blending ratios for biofuels four years ago but said maize could not be used to make biofuels to ensure food security and keep a lid on high prices.

The agriculture minister has said South Africa must review its biofuels policy to include maize to allow farmers to use their surplus crop for energy production.

“The [biofuels] debate is open, on one side it’s an agricultural debate and on the other side it’s a political debate,” Mulder said.

Mulder added that biofuels is not only about maize but also other crops such as sugar.

“Maize is up and down at the moment, a surplus this year and a drought next year and if you base the whole [biofuels] industry on that and next year there is no maize, you are in trouble,” he said. - Reuters

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