GMOs in South Africa 23 years on: failures, biodiversity loss and escalating hunger

Transition to agroecology urgently needed

This paper aims to update the public on activities and increased concerns since South Africa first approved the cultivation of genetically modified (GM) crops before the turn of the century. We are now living through a global pandemic, pointing to the imbalanced relationship between humans and our life-supporting systems and illustrative of the multiple planetary boundaries outstripped and exploited. This is a foreshadowing of an uncertain future, an embodiment of the climate crisis and impact of widespread ecological collapse.  

At this time of publishing, South Africa is the epicentre in Africa of this global pandemic and recording the fifth highest COVID infections in the world. Our food and agriculture system are based on extractive industrial agriculture, with our staple food, maize, which the majority of people in the country of nearly 60 million people consume on a daily basis, genetically modified. Our people are at great risk as they suffer from poor nutrition and already pre-pandemic one in four people went to bed hungry every night. Now in this crisis, already one million jobs have been lost, a number expected to rise considerably, and millions more people have been forced into hunger.  

Despite the role of industrial agricultural expansion in biodiversity loss and ecological destruction, driving further inequalities and putting the future of human civilisation at risk, we see a persistent and re-surged momentum of industrial agriculture at the heart of the false solutions being offered, to which genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are an integral part of.  

We urgently need to rewrite our relationship with the planet, upholding the rights of nature, farmers’ rights, and the right to self-determination.  It is vital that now, at this pivotal moment in history, that we shift the trajectory, phasing out industrial agriculture and transition towards a just and ecologically sound agricultural and food system.  

The world is waking up to the devastating impacts of industrial agricultural expansion, genetically uniform agricultural systems and the global agri-food trade, highlighted by the recent coronavirus outbreak. We call on the South African government to reign in corporate agribusiness and begin a process to decolonise our food system and ensure the liveability of the planet, where everyone's basic needs are met.