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Biotech crops impact economy positively

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The Department of Science and Technology Director General, Dr Phil Mjwara, says biotechnology or genetically modified (GM) crops have had a positive economic impact on South Africa.

He said this when he briefed journalists upon releasing the second survey on the Public Perceptions of Biotechnology in South Africa on Tuesday. The survey was conducted by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC).

“It is estimated that the economic gains from biotech crops for South Africa for the period 1998 to 2013 was $1.6bn and $313m for 2013 alone.

“In 2014, South Africa was growing more than 2.7-million hectares of GM crops. About 86% and 90% of maize and soya produced, respectively, are GM. Cotton is 100% genetically modified,” he said.

More than half of SA familiar with biotechnology

Dr Michael Gastrow, from the Human Sciences Research Council, said one of his observations from the survey, which was conducted amongst 2,900 adults in 500 areas across the country, was that there was a better understanding of how much people know about biotechnology from the younger generation, and that attitudes tend to get more positive with the young ones.

Dr Gastrow also said that the privileged – from the level of education, to those with a better living standard – have a better understanding or knowledge about biotechnology.

“When you look at attitudes towards biotechnology in terms of health, safety, environment and economic contribution… there are significant proportions that are in favour of a particular attitude, a significant proportion [that are] against, and a significant third… that just doesn’t know enough about biotechnology,” he said.

He said most South Africans are aware they are consuming genetically modified food.

The survey revealed that 48% were aware that they were eating genetically modified organisms, while 49% believed it was safe to do so.

The first survey conducted in 2004 revealed that public familiarity with the term ‘biotechnology’, stood at only 21%, while public awareness of GM consumption was at 13%. The latest survey commissioned by the department last year showed that the figures have tripled, 53% and 48% respectively.

Dr Gastrow said there had also been a major increase in attitudes that favour the purchasing of GM foods.

The proportion of the public that would purchase GM foods on basis of health considerations increased from 59% to 77%, while that of cost considerations increased from 51% to 73%, and environmental considerations from 50% to 68%.

GM forms of maize, soybean and cotton have been approved for commercial production in South Africa and these crops have become established in some parts of the country.

Public awareness to enhance biotechnology understanding

Dr Mjwara said, meanwhile, that while genetically modified crops have been approved and adopted in South Africa and worldwide by science-based regulatory systems and farmers, they still remain a source of apparent public controversy. While it is entirely appropriate for the public to have varying opinions on the technologies and their applications, where misinformation or deliberate misinformation is offered, it needs to be countered with scientific evidence, he said.

“This controversy contributes to extreme precautionary approaches by some countries, resulting in increased regulatory burdens and delays, with associated development costs, timelines and risks that have limited the number of countries adopting the technology – including countries in Africa.

“[This has] limited the application of the technology to relatively few crops, with limited traits, and only a handful of developers – usually multinational companies – have the capability and the resources to commercialise GM crops,” Dr Mjwara said.

To counter this perception, the Department of Science and Technology established the Public Understanding of Biotechnology (PUB) Programme, which sought to promote awareness and understanding of biotechnology to the broader public.

The PUB Programme was broadly successful in a number of interventions, including developing media roundtables; critical thinker sessions; exhibitions; training of media on science and technology issues, and the development of biotechnology in school curricula. However, it had very limited ability to respond to inaccurate, misleading or vague media (newspaper, television and radio) reports.

Source: bizcommunity.com

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Agriculture

African Farmers Stories: Oke-Aro Pig Settlement Faces Losses From Disease

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The African Farmers’ Stories, powered by Support4AfricanSMEs, in collaboration with Business Day Nigeria, Big Dutchman, Clarke Energy and other partners brings stories from farmers in Africa so that their challenges can be understood and long-term sustainable solutions can be sought.

As we continue to tell these stories, today we highlight the situation at Oke-Aro Agege, bordering Lagos and Ogun States where African Swine Fever has ravaged the Oke-Aro pig farm settlement, resulting in the loss of billions of naira worth of pigs and investments. African Swine Fever (ASF), a highly contagious viral haemorrhagic disease of wild and domesticated pigs is a known contributor to severe economic and production loss in pig farms. It was retrospectively first identified in Kenya in 1907 and can be spread via direct or indirect contact with infected pigs but is not a health risk to humans. Unfortunately, it has no vaccine or cure and must be controlled during an outbreak with classic sanitation measures, cleansing and disinfection, zoning control, surveillance and strict biosecurity measures.

The Oke-Aro piggery estate is located in in Giwa/Oke-Aro; it occupies overs 30 hectares of land with about 5000 pens, making it the largest pig farm in West Africa. It was established about twenty years ago by the Lagos State Ministry of Agriculture but is located in Ogun State and is powered by the National Directorate of Employment. The Oke-Aro Piggery Farmers Association has about 3,000 active members with each operating their own independent piggery within the settlement. The outbreak of such a deadly disease in the settlement is indeed alarming, and an indictment on the years of neglect from poor hygiene, absence of extension officers and poor supervision.

According to the President of the Association, It is estimated that the outbreak has resulted to over two hundred and fifty thousand pigs death worth and resulted in cumulative losses worth over 4.9 billions of naira. Many farmers have lost their entire stock and the lockdown has unfortunately worsened the situation as some tried to quickly sell of their pigs to avoid total loss but could not easily access buyers due to inter-state travel restrictions.

Unfortunately, this tragedy has severely affected the farmers of Oke-Aro pig settlement, as four farmers have been confirmed dead while another thirty are currently hospitalised from shock and high blood pressure brought on by the inability to repay the millions of naira worth of loans taken out to support their farms. Most of these farmers have no insurance premiums, and many are watching their investments, some of which are backed by borrowed funds from development and commercial banks, go down the drain. They are calling for assistance to revive the sector and preserve human lives.

Also Read: Black Mamba- Changing the world one chilli at a time

The situation has not gone unnoticed, with farmers taking to social media to lament the challenges the disease has brought about. Many fear the high mortality rates and complain that pigs are being sold at drastic losses for fear of death and to avoid total loss. Fully bred pigs weighing over 70kg are in some cases selling for as low as ₦1500.Other farmers joined in to cite their losses in other areas of livestock farming with Newcastle disease that affects poultry and can also result in total loss of investment.

The Oke-Aro tragedy highlights the importance of the African Farmers’ Stories campaign – to tell the important stories to attract investors and policy makers into the agricultural sector. Indeed, the time to support the African farmer and other entrepreneurs is now, as jobs and livelihoods are being lost. There is an urgent need for investors to address areas such as the recycling sector to recycle the waste from piggeries and to contribute to value addition to the pigs, extension services to support and educate farmers, and policy makers to ensure constant supervision of the standard of hygiene within the settlement.

Article By: Victoria Madedor of Support4AfricanSMEs

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Agriculture

COVID-19 Pandemic disrupting our food supply chain – What Next?

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Vertical farming. Image credit: Josephine Favre

The COVID-19 Pandemic is challenging us. None of us saw it coming!

Everything around us is changing, from our behaviour in how we deal with the nitty gritty little things to the way on how we look at managing our businesses under Lockdown.

At this point of time, food advocates, including smallholder farmers are facing immense pressure not only on food production, but on distribution/supply due to many countries and their boarders suddenly closing.

There are some countries that are better managed than others thus can go by with their activities on a daily basis, however there are many countries still lacking the appropriate support and expertise necessary to implement sustainable, suitable and appropriate food transition during this Pandemic.

Our entire supply demand chain could so easily be redesigned or redefined due to the COVID-19 Pandemic and the associated economic disruption.

What does that mean? It means owners of food production will need to find ways to monetize their existence. These will result to immediate self-production, leading to door to door delivery of everything we need and consume to our homes.

Building a food production infrastructure which uses less land, less water, less fertilizer and puts higher value, nutritious food at the doorstep of the consumer, is undoubtedly a huge step forward for agriculture and human development.

We are at a point when the technology not only already exists but is improving at an exponential rate; the question is not when but how? How big of a role can vertical farming play in securing the availability of food for future generations while protecting the planet in the process.

Integrating sustainable food production into the urban environment and becoming climate resilient is a necessary step for a modern society. Vertical Farming offers all of this, while also serving as a tool for uplifting quality of life in densely-populated urban areas.

Vertical farming is a smart solution that will use the most advanced technologies in agriculture to provide answers to food production questions. Vertical farms are climate controlled and produce the same quality of food regardless of environmental factors like droughts, floods, pests and disease. By remaining independent of the outdoor environment, vertical farms can provide food for urban and rural areas alike that suffer from food shortage during periods of extreme weather or disease.

Vertical farming

It is more clear now that Vertical Farming is no longer just an Urban Farming solutions but a general farming solution given today’s climate changes such as heat waves, extreme floods etc. We need to be in control and Vertical Farming or CEA gives us just that, RESILIENCE.

Also Read: Sub-Saharan Africa steps up efforts to boost local food & beverage manufacturing

The African Association for Vertical Farming (AAVF) is playing a very big role to ensure that the farming community (and potential Agriprenuers) are aware of Vertical Faring as a modern way of farming that ascertain productivity despite climate change challenges, while addressing food security delivery.

We the AAVF at this point of time advice every family owning land, small or big, a balcony or a side garden to learn on how to produce, or provide for themselves and their own by using Vertical Farming Technologies as their agriculture method starting from now.

New technologies for single household to complex business projects can now easily be taught. Join us for our online Vertical Farming Trainings at: https://www.aavf.ch/copy-ofapplication-form-1

There can be no doubt that we have to act now and move toward more sustainable thinking in food practices.

We can do this together!

Article By: Josephine Favre, President The African Association for Vertical Farming

Visit: The African Association for Vertical Farming

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Agriculture

Ensuring that Hunger does not Kill more people than COVID-19 in Africa

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With the global spread of the COVID-19, and gradual lockdowns in cities and countries across Africa, I have new fears – that starvation and hunger are mounting threats for people across continent. These fears are hinged on the realization that it is planting season in most parts of the Continent, and yet farmers are being asked to sit at home, the movement of seasonal workers is restricted, research institutes that provide seeds, fertilizer blending companies and agrodealers, processors and markets are all being shut down. Our regional and national borders are closed, and trading is being restricted. These realities, if pro-longed and not urgently addressed, will lead to short term consequences of food shortages, price hikes, and medium to long term consequences of under-nutrition, mass starvation and eventually death, especially among our most vulnerable populations.

We have to act with urgency to stem the virus through social distancing and lock downs. At the same time, we must recognize that farmers and workers in the food industry are essential to the fight against the pandemicand desperately need to be protected and supported. Indeed, without nutritious food, the sick cannot recover, and the healthy will eventually become unwell.

My fears are shared by a few stakeholders on the Continent and around the world. The EU Farmer’s organization – COPA-COGECAearlier this week actively advocated for support to ensure minimal disruptions to the food supply chain, worker protection and contingency plans. The United Kingdom and the United States have already outlined comprehensive plans to provide intervention grants, loans, and tax holidays, for stakeholders in the food industry, including restaurant owners and retailers affected by the economic fallout of the pandemic. In Mexico, farmers who continue to plough their fields are being celebrated as heroes.

Sadly, there has been no coordinated action from industry groups, the private sector, civil society, or the public sector to raise awareness about the looming food crises on the African Continent, linked to COVID-19.

Thankfully, it is not too late to act! We must take decisive and proactive steps to ensure that our people have access to affordable nutritious food in both our urban and rural communities. This will require that;

  • Our governments at the federal, state, and local levels recognize key stakeholders in the food and agricultural landscape as essential workers and provide them with the protection and support that they need to continue to work, following pre-stipulated safety and health protocols. We must keep food markets and factories open, with clear guidelines around limiting crowds, and widely publicized schedules for who can enter during what periods of time. We can also learn from China’s example over the last few months, where government officials, especially the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs (MARA) and Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security and National Health Commission repeatedly issued comprehensive notes to farmers on the control and prevention of the virus in rural areas, as well recommendations and protocols for preparing for their planting season and sustaining the livestock and poultry sectors.

Beyond guidance and protocols, our governments must urgently partner with the financial services sector to develop comprehensive loan packages for farmers, and entrepreneurs who are committed to working during the crises and can demonstrate their capacity to fill critical gaps in the food ecosystem. These interventions must actively engage women, who play a critical role in the sector. In addition, our governments must assess thenational strategic and emergency grain reserves to gauge what is available and how to effectively manage and deploy these reserves in a transparent and accountable manner to minimize price hikes and widespread shortages.

  • Our industry associations, fast moving consumer goods companies, international trading companies, aggregators, wholesalers, and retailers must work together seamlessly to ensure the efficient and effective provision of affordable food to the masses of people. Leveraging technology, raw material suppliers and processors can actively partner with logisticsproviders and retailers to ensure that food is moved to where it is needed most, and no community is left behind.

This is not a period for hoarding and price gouging, with a focus on profits and growth at all costs. Companies must rise to the higher ideal of shared corporate values, where they put the needs of their customers and the African people ahead of their own requirements for profits and shareholder value. To ensure that this occurs, consumer protection and anti-competition agencies must closely monitor the activities of the largest actors in the food industry to ensure a level playing field.

In addition, the private sector can facilitate the introduction ofdrones, sensors and other precision agriculture andinnovative technology solutions, which will allow for active monitoring of commercial farm activity from a distance. Companies such as Atlas AI  have demonstrated the power of technology to manage farms and assess impact, without direct human contact.

Our nonprofit organizations and media organizations must provide thought-leadership, monitoring and guidance to the entire ecosystem. Organizations such as GAIN are already providing critical guidance during this period.

  • Finally, average citizens must invest in their own backyard and community gardens, while ensuring social distancing, manage their food budgets judiciously and share with their neighbors. Faith based organizations must open soup kitchens, offering free meals and partner with logistics providers to coordinate drop-offs. We must rebuild trust in our communities by caring for the most vulnerable at this exceedingly challenging time in our history as humanity!

As an eternal optimist, I am hopeful that as a people we will survive the COVID-19 pandemic, emerging with some critical lessons and a more resilient, united,and efficient food ecosystem. Now is the time for governments, stakeholders in the food ecosystem and citizens to act! Every minute counts!

Also Read: The Rockefeller Foundation Appoints Two African Female Leaders to Board of Trustees

Article By: Ndidi Okonkwo Nwuneli is the managing partner of Sahel Consulting Agriculture & Nutrition and the Co-Founder of AACE Foods. She is a 2018 Aspen New Voices Fellow and is currently writing a book titled “African Entrepreneurs Nourishing the World,” as a research fellow at the MR-CBG at the Harvard Kennedy School.

Visit: Sahel Consult

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