Adopting GM crops such as banana and maize could help save lives in some Sub-Saharan African countries, a study says.
Photo: © Jelle Goossens / flickr

06.10.2017

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The delay in approving the use of genetically modified (GM) crops is contributing to malnutrition and poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa, a study has found. However, the debate about genetically engineered crops remains controversial.

Many African governments are grappling with opponents and proponents of genetically modified or GM crops. This means their adoption is delayed, especially when opponents use the strategy of “announcing uncertainty” shortly before decisions are taken about them, according to the study published in PLOS One journal end of July.

Costs of delay in terms of malnutrition

Justus Wesseler, a co-author of the study and professor of agricultural economics at Wageningen University, the Netherlands, tells SciDev.Net that the regulatory delay of genetically engineered crops impacts negatively on food production in African countries, leading to malnutrition which indirectly translates to high health costs.

Adopting GM crops such as banana and maize could help save lives in some Sub-Saharan African countries, according to the study.

“The costs of a delay in approval of Bt [genetically modified] maize for Kenya, black-sigatoka-resistant banana for Uganda, and corn-borer-resistant cowpeas for Benin, Niger and Nigeria not only include the foregone benefits for producers and consumers in economic terms, but also the indirect health costs in the form of nutrition foregone, which can be translated into lives saved,” Wesseler explains.

The team of researchers from Germany, the Netherlands, South Africa and the United States used data from previous studies to estimate the average annual consumer and producer surplus - a measure of the economic benefits - and the negative impact of malnourishment.

For example, according to the study, a year’s delay in approving the use of the pod-borer-resistant cowpea in Nigeria could cost the country 33 to 46 million USD, and between 100 and 3,000 lives.

“The calculations considered that adoption of the technology will take time and that not all farmers will adopt the new crops,” explains Wesseler.

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