‘Marker Assisted Selection’ uses molecular markers as tools in a plant or animal breeding programme to select for important agricultural traits, such as nutritional quality, drought tolerance, disease and pest resistance. It has been suggested that MAS has the potential to increase food production and help initiate a new Green Revolution in Africa. A much celebrated MAS and Green Revolution programme is the ‘New Rice for Africa’, (NERICA) that was developed by the West Africa Rice Development Association (WARDA). Globally, most of the MAS programmes are focused on cereals; particularly maize, rice, wheat and barley. Monsanto who has 23% of the global seed market and 9% of the global agrochemical pesticide market, is rapidly adopting and developing MAS for their breeding programmes. MAS produced crop plants are generally not subject to biosafety regulation, which means Agricultural-biotechnology companies can avoid biosafety costs and more rapidly, bring their products to the market.
Agricultural-biotechnology companies stand to gain the greatest economic benefits because MAS methods and products can be protected by patents, enabling greater market domination and control over agricultural systems by these companies. There are several biosafety risks associated with MAS that are of concern. Products developed by MAS often lack genetic diversity as the process of selection for desirable traits in the laboratory removes the plant from the natural, evolving gene pool. The maintenance of agricultural genetic diversity and dynamic gene pools is vital to protect crops from new diseases or climatic changes. Agricultural genetic diversity has been developed and maintained over thousands of years by farmers and traditional breeders to produce numerous open-pollinated varieties (landraces), which are also part of their indigenous knowledge systems.
The diversity of these landraces needs to be preserved by isolation and segregation practices so that the biodiversity of landraces are protected from the intellectual property rights of patented Agricultural-biotechnology products. MAS is being used within a ‘business as usual’ approach to food production and will therefore contribute to undermining food sovereignty and food security, and increasing global inequalities, hunger, poverty and environmental degradation.