African more than developed countries farmers to reap more economic and environmental benefits of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)

By Clet Wandui MASIGA

Conservation Biologist, Geneticist and Farm Entrepreneur


African farmers are set to benefit more from genetically engineered organisms than developed countries partly due to non-functional rights laws. Here are the conclusions from four peer reviewed publications evaluating genetically modified organisms (GMOs) that have Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt)  and herbicide tolerant (HT)/round ready (RR) traits.

Widespread adoption of Bt cotton and insecticide decrease promotes biocontrol services (Lu et al 2012). This is because transgenic crops producing insecticidal proteins derived from Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) have proved effective in controlling bollworm and reducing the need for pesticides. In USA, the net benefits, includes convenience of roundup ready (RR) soybeans, significant value on operator and worker safety, environmental benefits and market risks diminishes sharply as the percent of roundup ready soybean acres increases (Marra et al 2004).

Perhaps the most important thing that African leaders will need to know is a tradeoff between farmers getting out of farming to pave way for rich mechanized farms or adopt HT tolerant crops and keep more people in farming hence consumers have more choices on markets than having a few that will dictate the food prices (–a practice I personally support). The latter option will happen naturally as long as farming remains unprofitable in Africa. Farmers will either scale up or out of farming. We will see younger people selling off land to bigger farm entrepreneurs.

In Argentina GMOs particularly RR soybeans has increased total factor production by 10% on average with cost savings being more for smaller farms than larger farms (Qaim & Traxler, 2005). In terms of economics, the global value of biotech seeds was USD15.7 billion and farm gate prices of harvested end product was USD133.3 billion (James Clive, 2014). Note that it costs about USD135 million to develop and commercialize a GM variety. So if a company makes profit of a billion is worth the investment. But many other people across the value chain benefits. According to Qaim & Traxler (2005), the largest share of benefits from RR soybean went to consumers (53%), followed by seed and biotechnology firms (34%), and agricultural producers (13%).It’s also important to note that even when Africa rejects GMOs, private seed companies using conventional technologies still market seeds worth more than USD55 billion annually.

In Argentina due to comparatively weak intellectual property protection and because only small technology mark-ups in seed prices and widespread adoption, Argentine soybean growers receive 90% of the benefits in that country which demonstrates that farmers in developing countries can gain considerably when they obtain access to suitable foreign innovations through technology spill-overs (Qaim & Traxler, 2005). On average, GM technology adoption has reduced chemical pesticide use by 37%, increased crop yields by 22%, and increased farmer profits by 68%. Yield gains and pesticide reductions are larger for insect-resistant crops than for herbicide-tolerant crops. Yield and profit gains are higher in developing countries than in developed countries (Klumper & Qaim, 2014).

Africans and others who are fighting GMOs, will need to remember that in absence of Bt, there will be more sales from chemical companies most them are owned by Europeans and Asian entrepreneurs. Alternatively as GMOs are being fought, most of the seeds will continue to be provided by private seed companies and they will sale it as proprietary technology.

Because ignorance seems to be ruling the world, let me end by providing some factual data. The world top three seed companies include Monsanto, DuPont/pioneer and Syngenta. All combined make about USD28 billion annually. The top three agrochemical companies include Syngenta, Bayer and Basf and they make USD46 billion, the top three food processing companies include Nestle, Archer and unilever  and all together USD521 billion. And the top three food distribution companies include Walmat, Carrefour and Tesco and all together they make USD764 billion. So who is controlling the world or monopolizing world food?

I remain wondering if African leaders and others against GMOs have any of this data or have just been mislead with misinformation on subjects they do not understand. It’s therefore logical that African leaders need to make courageous and logical decision and support their farmers to have access to technology options for their development.


James, Clive. 2014. Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2014. ISAAA Brief  No. 49. ISAAA: Ithaca, NY.

Klümper W, Qaim M (2014). A meta-analysis of the impacts of genetically modified crops. PLoS One. 2014 Nov 3;9(11):e111629. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0111629. eCollection 2014.

Lu Yanhui, Kongming Wu, Yuying Jiang, Yuyuan Guo,  & Nicolas Desneux (2012). Widespread adoption of Bt cotton and insecticide decrease promotes biocontrol services. Nature 487, 362-365 doi:10.1038/nature11153

Marra Michele C., Nicholas E. Piggott, and Gerald A. Carlson (2004). The net benefits, including convenience, of roundup ready® soybeans: results from a national survey.  NSF Center for IPM Technical Bulletin 2004-3. 39pp. Raleigh, NC

Matin Qaim and Greg Traxler (2005). Roundup Ready soybeans in Argentina: farm level and aggregate welfare effects. Agricultural Economics. Volume 32, Issue 1, pages 73–86. DOI: 10.1111/j.0169-5150.2005.00006.x









By Peter Wamboga Mugirya

Ugandan President, Gen. Yoweri Museveni has blamed the failure of his country’s Parliament to pass the decade-old-National Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill into law, on widespread ignorance among most legislators.

He says the ignorant MPs–largely elected from villages and remote rural areas–cannot fully appreciate the power of modern science of biotechnology.

This, the Ugandan Head of State explained, has led to the stalling of the Bill, yet it is aimed at providing a conducive regulatory regime for commercialization of GM-crops developed by the State-run National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO).
The Ugandan head of state was speaking at the World Food Day national event October 16, held at a NARO Tea research and development institute. It is located at Rwebitaba on the foothills of the beautiful Mountains of the Moon (Rwenzoris) in western Uganda.
He said most legislators — a majority of whom surprisingly belong to his ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) Party — cannot comprehend genetic engineering for being useful in imparting resistance to drought, resistance to virulent pests and diseases [challenges farmers are grappling with in crops]. “The MPs are from villages and do not understand such sophisticated science as biotechnology; that’so why they fear it,” said Museveni.
The President told the large gathering including representatives of the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP), that while Ugandan scientists have used biotechnology to develop a wide range of maize, cassava, banana, sorghum and millet varieties with good attributes of high yields, pests and disease-resistance, the Parliament has failed to provide an enabling law to regulate and release GM crops.

“We have been training such a large number of scientists and today they are able to develop and process anything…… First, the human resource in terms of scientists is there; secondly, the innovation fund is there but not yet enough to cover all scientists; thirdly improved seedlings and improved seeds I’m very happy, our scientists have developed them; today we have improved seeds for maize, millet, and for coffee. They even have used biotechnology to produce better seeds; but my MPs who need to modernise their thinking have failed to pass the biotechnology law; they have frustrated my scientists; you can hear them [scientists] expressing frustrations over there…….!” the largely jovial President said, amusing the audience and receiving applause from the scientists.

Tell people to stop spreading fear about biotechnology, he further said, adding that members of Parliament have refused to pass the Bill. they fear biotechnology for no good reason; but biotechnology is used to impart certain qualities; I don’t know what they fear; … for me I don’t think there’s no reason to fear!”

Speaking in the local dialect widely spoken in the area, the President said: …”The scientists used biotechnology to add something that imparts a special power to the seed; so the technology is good, useful and is available!

This open support for biotechnology is the first in a long time the Uganda leader has made publicly. However, he is a renowned strong supporter of science, technology and innovations.

He added that Ugandan scientists have solved many of the country’s problems, so we must pay them well to ensure they are stable and work harder.”Please my ministers and MPs, I need you to support my push to pay well our scientists. Some people have discouraged it, demanding that we democratise poor pay…. But for me I don’t mind if my pay is lower than that of our scientists, I’d be very happy if they earn much more than they do today,” he stressed.

It is not the first time the Uganda leader alluded to improving salary   payment and other emolments to scientists, to boost their morale, so as to sustain their momentum of hard work.

Earlier, the Agriculture Minister, Tress Bucyanayandi had reported that Uganda was food secure, save for a “few pockets of food insufficiency or shortages due to poor yields as a result of prolonged drought” in some parts of the country. He thanked FAO, WFP and Oxfam for supporting uganda’s agricuultural sector, via technical and financial assistance, in addition to providing guidance to farmer adaptation to climate change.


Report adapted from excerpts from the NBSTV live coverage of the event.

Thank you.