The 2016 annual report on Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops has been launched in three African countries: Cameroon, Malawi and South Africa. A virtual launch took place in Nairobi, Kenya on June 13, 2017.

In Cameroon, the report was presented during the African Biosafety Service Providers coordination meeting in Yaounde in May and attended by workshop participants and 10 Cameroonian journalists. It was presided over by Dr. David Mbah, Executive Secretary of the Cameroon Academy of Sciences. Addressing a question on why Cameroon was conducting GM cotton trials, Dr. Mbah said the country “chose biotech cotton trials as a starting point so that people get a chance to see there is nothing to fear because the scientific and regulatory process is rigorous.” He added that once Cameroonians had confidence in the technology, more biotech crops will be introduced and the country would then join the global map as an adopting country in the near future.

In Malawi, Dr. Albert Changaya, Controller of Agricultural Extension and Technical Services represented the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development at the launch. He urged journalists to “convey messages based on scientific evidence and facts so that governments can hasten decision making.” He allayed fears on GM crops, stating that the technology provided a viable tool in improving agricultural productivity. The launch took place on June 7, 2017, during a three-day regional media training workshop organized by Malawi’s Department of Agricultural Research Services, COMESA and ISAAA. It was attended by 40 journalists from Malawi, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe, who also had an opportunity to visit a Bt cotton varietal trial in Central Malawi.

Participants at the Cameroon workshop
Participants at the Malawi workshop

Journalists appreciated the technology’s performance and the contributions it would make to improve the living condition of neighboring communities, which they noted was unacceptable. Farmers present wondered why the seeds cannot be availed to them. “We believe in our scientists and we have seen the prospects of Bt cotton, which is producing more than 30 bolls compared to just 6-8 bolls per plant you saw in our farmers from traditional cotton” lamented Jennifer, a cotton farmer in Chitala.

Dr. Getachew Belay, COMESA’s Senior Biotechnology Policy Adviser expressed satisfaction with the experimental trial design, adding that it gave a wide choice for various agro-ecological zones in Malawi. While responding to journalists concerns on long-term performance of the technology, he said African regulators are watchful and have the necessary capacity to handle any eventualities. “Farmers are the best judges and will be the first to reject the technology if it does not deliver. What they need is the opportunity to practically make that decision” he stressed.

For Africa, 2016 was the 19th year of commercialization of biotech crops. A total of 13 countries up from 11 in 2015 either planted, conducted trials or transitioned to granting approvals for general release of various biotech crops. South Africa and Sudan grew a total of 2.8 million hectares of biotech crops out of the 185.1 million hectares grown worldwide.