Home » Technology » Harness Biotech for National Food Security

Food insecurity remains the biggest threat not only to Zimbabwe, but to Africa as a whole. By 2050, Africa’s population will more than double to 2,4 billion and will need to be fed, along with the billions of animals raised annually for food and as pets. Pollution will intensify, contributing to climate change and low agricultural production among our smallholder farmers.

The picture is grim.

At present, much of Africa is a net importer of maize and other food crops, a development that is costing our countries billions of dollars annually.

We are richly endowed with vast tracts of land but we are not investing in agricultural biotechnology to boost crop yields and to promote more efficient food production.

Zimbabwe is brimming with key policy documents that talk about the importance of biotechnology in enhancing national food security.

The Food and Nutrition policy, Second Science, Technology and Innovation Policy and above all the country’s socio-economic blueprint — Zim-Asset –all highlight the importance of agricultural biotechnology as a field that could bring sustainable food security.

Our universities and research institutions have competent scientists that can play a leading role in developing and applying new biotechnology techniques that could help make our country a net importer of food.

Most African countries risk food shortages largely because of declining investment in agriculture, climate change and lack of technology to improve crop yields sustainably.

We cannot overlook the importance of enhancing access by small-shareholder farmers to innovations such as Bt cotton that can help reduce pest infestations, increase yields and improve their livelihoods sustainably without hurting the environment or endangering health.

In as much as we must be wary of many GM innovations, we should not simply throw away all biotechnologies without testing and researching them ourselves.

We are already importing many GM products and all seed sold commercially — strictly speaking — is genetically modified. Agricultural biotechnologies can provide improved insect control, reduced chemical application costs, increased yields, and better incomes.

Burkina Faso and Sudan increased Bt cotton hectarage by 50 percent and 300 percent, respectively, according to the 2013 International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) report.

South Africa has also seen growth in Bt cotton and maize output.

Kenya, Cameroon, Egypt, Ghana, Malawi, Nigeria and Uganda have been conducting biotech crop field trials as a key step to approval for commercialisation.

In these countries, biotechnology is helping farmers boost their productivity at a time when we are fully aware that climate change could very possibly make farming difficult in years to come.

Something needs to be done. We need to know and trust science. Let’s depoliticise science and help the farmers.

Let’s direct biotechnology to farmers and see what they can do to increase their crop yields before we criticise GM technologies.

Agricultural biotechnology is not the panacea to food security challenges facing Zimbabwe and most other countries but is a useful part of a suite of a support mechanism for farmers apart from giving them seed and fertilisers.

Investing in agricultural biotechnologies and offering scientists more space to conduct research to improve crop yields and reduce crop pests and diseases is a key step in making farming in Zimbabwe and most other African countries more productive and sustainable.

Improving access to useful technologies by farmers and addressing logistical constraints in the agricultural sector such as infrastructure, storage facilities, roads, distribution channels and value addition can also help Zimbabwe and Africa to feed itself, rather than rely on overseas imports and food aid.

Source : The Herald