Bayer breathing life into Gates’ failed GM drought tolerant maize

Agrarian extractivism continues unabated on the African continent 

In this alert, African Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) research and advocacy officers, Sabrina Masinjila and Rutendo Zendah, give insights into the development of a double stacked drought tolerant variety MON 87460 x MON 810, under the Gate’s funded project, Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA), now known as TELA, for sub-Saharan countries. 

Bayer, desperate to revive the TELA project on the African continent, and masquerading as solving smallholder farmers’ poverty woes, is using South Africa’s permissive biosafety regulatory environment to multiply obsolete and deficient genetically modified (GM) seeds of the MON 87460 x MON 810 variety, for export to the TELA countries.  

Irrefutably, Bayer’s drought tolerant trait in the MON 87460 variety doesn’t work while the insect resistant MON 810 has faced massive failures in South Africa. Further, the industry’s unsubstantiated and unscientific claims of the insect resistant trait’s ability to combat the now persistent fall armyworm in Africa through TELA, have been invalidated, as shown with the emergence of resistance in countries in North and South America, including Brazil. Further rendering the TELA project to the brink of collapse, has been the Tanzanian government’s cancellation of trials, twice, and the South African government rejection of a triple stacked drought tolerant (DT) variety in 2018, due to insufficient data to demonstrate the claimed DT and insect resistant efficacy of the GM event.

Despite all this, Kenya and Uganda imported Bayer’s GM seeds in 2019 from South Africa for field trials, disregarding the fact that the same GM event has not been approved in South Africa for commercial use. Regulatory hurdles in Uganda have prevented the furthering of these trials, a situation which is bound to change soon, if the genetically modified organisms (GMO) bill is passed. At the same time, Ethiopia and Nigeria are still trialing the drought tolerant stacked variety, while the industry purports that Mozambique has completed its trials and is in the process of commercialising. 

Questionable is the willingness of African countries to allow the promotion of this neo-colonial and extractive industrial agenda through enabling the dumping of these obsolete technologies into their countries. As if that weren’t enough, the secrecy surrounding TELA, coupled with the unrelenting propaganda by the biotech’s mouthpiece, the Cornell Alliance for Science, shows a lack of good intentions for African people, with the promotion of capturing, and profiteering from, the continents’ lucrative maize market. With this, we are bound to witness a deepening of social and ecological crises facing African smallholder farmers, and increased inequalities in our food systems.

It goes without saying that the warnings of the COVID-19 pandemic require us to shift towards real rather than false solutions that benefit only a few individuals. We need to decolonise our agricultural systems through ensuring transformative changes in our relationship with nature, with a shift towards sustainable, agro-biodiverse agricultural systems that give agency and autonomy to African smallholder farmers. 

The ACB continues to urge African governments to reject the imposition of outdated GM technologies and adopt workable and holistic solutions for the present and the future of our African continent and people.  

Read the full alert here.