To cope with drought and rising food prices, we need to urgently move away from genetically modified food and towards indigenous African crops.

So warns the African Centre for Biodiversity (ACB). “We need to urgently shift away from maize towards embracing a diversity of crops – particularly indigenous African summer grain crops such as sorghum and millet – and agro ecology,” says ACB director, Mariam Mayet.

Coinciding with World Food Day, the African Centre for Biodiversity (ACB), has released an important report. It is called “Transitioning out of GM maize: towards nutrition security, climate adaptation, agro-ecology and social justice.” It makes a compelling case for South Africa to urgently transition out of GM maize production, to systems that are socially just, ecologically sustainable and provide nutrition security for a rapidly urbanising population in the face of the current crippling drought.

According to Mariam Mayet, Director of the ACB, “South Africa is at a crossroads: either it must abandon Monsanto’s GM maize including its bogus drought tolerant GM maize seed or face an economic, social and ecological crisis.”

The report shows that the current maize production system is unsustainable for a number of ecological and economic reasons:

  • Over-reliance on genetically modified (GM) maize to provide a staple food and animal feed has resulted in huge production losses and the current (2015-16) maize crop is the smallest harvested since 2006/7 (7.125 million tonnes).
  • South Africa will need to import 5 million tonnes of maize between May 2016 and April 2017.
  • Food prices have burgeoned at a 40% year-on-year increase.
  • Reduced yields, increased imports, and a depreciating rand have meant huge financial risks for commercial maize farmers.
  • Debt levels have reached record highs.
  • Skyrocketing food prices impact on poor consumers. If the merger between Bayer and Monsanto should go through, monopolies in seed and chemicals means less choice for farmers and consumers.
  • Cartels will control the price of GM maize seed.
  • About 46% of South African households go hungry every day.
  • An estimated one in five children in South Africa is stunted, while over 50% of South African women are overweight and obese due to reliance on cheap, over-processed diets.

With climate change, maize is fast becoming an inappropriate crop except in parts of the Eastern Cape. Here extensive GM maize plantations threaten biodiversity.

Linzi Lewis, author of the report strongly argues that “South Africa must strengthen agricultural biodiversity and dietary diversity.”

The report sets out steps that we must adopt on the path to the transition:

  • Support both large and small scale farmers and use of safe, open source and appropriate technologies.
  • Provide more resources for public research and extension services and move towards “agro ecology” (farming in harmony with nature).
  • Invest in research and development, using participatory breeding techniques of farmer varieties and improved open pollinated varieties (OPVs), for drought tolerance, and other useful traits, and look at naturally drought tolerant, indigenous summer grains such as sorghum and millet.
  • Shift away from the focus on high-yielding crops with high calorie content, to a diverse range of foods that are accessible, affordable, produced in ecologically sustainable ways and are culturally appropriate.
  • Enhance the ability of farmers and processors to improve food, energy and technology.

Read the full report here.