Zimbabwean Government says it will maintain its position of prohibiting the growing of genetically modified crops, arguing it is yet to be convinced on the benefits of the GMOs. This comes amid growing calls that Government should allow the growing of GMOs as an alternative solution to boost agricultural production being negatively affected by recurring droughts exacerbated by conditions associated with climate change.
Last year, most parts of southern Africa, Zimbabwe included, severely suffered long dry spells due to an El Nino weather pattern, resulting in significant reduction in yields of major crops such as maize and cotton.
This year, cotton output will be the lowest in two seasons to about 68 000 tonnes from 142 000 tonnes last year and 74 000 tonnes in 2017 due to drought. The drought also affected maize output, which dropped by 54 percent to 776 635 tonnes and indications are the country is likely to import almost one million tonnes.
Advocates of genetically modified crops, said the Government should take a fresh look and embrace the growing of such crops to boost productivity and reduce imports. “I think it is the right time to adopt these GMOs because of the state of national food security as well as to improve better yields,” said Dr Dexter Savadye, chief executive of National Biotechnology Authority told Sunday Mail Business in an interview.
“Actually, we are already consuming the GMOs and I think it is ideal to start engaging now. We have neighbouring countries namely South Africa and Botswana that are already consuming these. As a country, we must not be left behind.”
However, Lands, Agriculture, Water, Climate and Rural Resettlement Minister Perrance Shiri, said while the debate was ongoing on GMOs, growing of such varieties remain prohibited. “We have not yet been convinced yet on the benefits (of GMOs),” said Minister Shiri, adding Government’s major concern remained on their impact on the environment.
GMOs supporters, however, say the concerns being raised by the Zimbabwean Government and other African countries, were yet to be scientifically proven. Last week, Cotton Producers and Marketers Association chairman Mr Steward Mubonderi, said the Government anti-GMO position had never been supported by any research.
He said the association once made a case for genetically modified technology with the Government and believes it was high time such critical debate be given another chance. “This position has to be reviewed,” said Mr Mubonderi. “GMOs will enable local farmers to produce more, even enough to export so that the country earns the much needed foreign currency.”
Already, the country is consuming significant imported GMOs which have rendered the country’s agricultural produce uncompetitive. Zimbabwe’s policy on GMO foods does not prohibit consumption, but only production. Zimbabwe will import about one million tonnes of maize following last season’s poor rains, which led to a drought and the country is already in negotiations with potential suppliers.