On the 9 March 2012, the chief lobbyist for the biotech industry, the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA), presented findings from its latest annual report to the media in Pretoria, South Africa. The ISAAA proudly proclaimed another boom year for genetically modified (GM) crops in South Africa and claimed that the benefit of GM crops is widespread and widely shared.

The African Centre for Biosafety (ACB) vehemently disputes that GM crops have benefitted farmers and consumers in South Africa. GM crops have done nothing to bring about food security or curtail the escalating costs of food in South Africa. Between January 2008 and January 2012, the cost of a 5kg bag super maize meal increased by a staggering 83%. In 2007, the poorest 30% of the population spent approximately 22% of their monthly income on food, including on maize-a staple. The latest figures from January 2012 put this at nearly 39%.

According to Mariam Mayet, Director of the ACB, “the beneficiaries of GM crops remain the multinational biotechnology companies themselves. Monsanto controls around 50% of the maize seed market in South Africa, and its maize seed revenues from last season easily topped R1 billion! Furthermore, nearly every GM seed sold in SA contains Monsanto’s patent protected traits, meaning it collects a license fee from virtually every GM maize seed transaction in the country.”

Despite a record maize harvest of 12.8 million tons in 2010, nearly one in four South Africans are food insecure. Ironically, food insecurity was above the national average in the Free State and the North West provinces, the country’s proverbial maize basket. A huge surplus of around 4 million tons also did little to benefit South Africa’s commercial maize farmers, as the prices they receive for maize are seriously eroded by what they pay for expensive GM seeds and other inputs. The cost of seed currently eats up 13% of a farmer?s production costs – yet in 2005 this figure was only at 5%.

“It is no coincidence that over this period, the GM seed’s market share increased from 20% to a whopping 77%. Since 2008, the average price for GM maize seed increased by 30%, and further increases are likely, as a plethora of expensive new ‘stacked’ GM crops make their way to the market” said Mayet.

And it gets much worse. In response to the massive surplus of 2010, over 2 million tons of maize were exported in the second half of 2011 alone. Incredibly, South Africa is now importing maize at twice the cost it was sold for.

“Having let the GM genie out of the bottle, it is clear that farmers and consumers are now completely at the whim of system designed by and for the multinational agribusiness corporations” said Gareth Jones, a researcher at the ACB. The ISAAA is at pains to point to millions of small-scale farmers who will benefit from this technology, citing particularly the experience of GM cotton farmers. “This is a disingenuous claim to make in the light that over 2,000 cotton farmers left the sector since 2006 and only a 600 farmers are involved in cotton farming in South Africa today, growing a paltry 5 000 ha.” said Mayet.

Notes to Editors

For more information see the following ACB publications, all available at www.acbio.org.za: