Taking part in the panel discussion at the recent Africa Green Revolution Forum(AGRF), on how technological change in agriculture is essential for improving food security and agricultural growth’, Maghembe argued that GMOs were one way to increase productivity and boost the income of the African farmer.
Prof Maghembe challenged scientists to do research to find out if GMOs are harmful to humans and the environment. “For example, cotton is not a food crop. Why don’t we start with that so that we increase yields and help farmers earn more from this crop?,” he asked. However, cotton seed produces edible oil.
He added, “There so many Non Government Organisations represented here, and are against GMOs. But all of us here, including those against GMOs wear clothes made from GMO cotton… whom are we enriching?” he asked. Currently, there is divided opinion in the cotton industry on whether the strict liability clause in bio-safety regulatory framework be removed to increase output of the crop.
The contestable clause in the bio-safety regulatory framework ensures that even if GMOs were to be introduced, the companies supplying them would be accountable in case anything wrong happens. Prof Maghembe said the existing technologies should be taken to local farmers so that they benefit from them.
He cited the wealth of knowledge at the Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA) where he was a lecturer that is hardly disseminated to farmers. “Knowledge is like money.
You want farmers to produce well, then you have to show them how to do it, take technology to them. Research institutions should be funded, on farm research carried out with involvement of farmers and create markets for farmers so that they become major engines of growth,” he said.
The Managing Director of the Rockefeller Foundation Dr Gary Toenniessen, said governments should ensure that their systems worked for the people and were consistent. The Chairperson, Sasakawa Africa Association (SAA) and Sasakawa Africa Fund for Extension Education (SAFE), Prof Ruth Oniang’o every African has roots to a village and they should support smalholder farmers. Researchers at the gathering said fears were all over, yet the current regulations do not allow them to quantify the likely effects, if any, of GMOs on biodiversity and farmers.