In this first alert of the decade, African Centre of Biodiversity research and advocacy officers Linzi Lewis and Sabrina Masinjila provide an update on the status of GM activities, in South Africa and in relation to the region.
Summary of current key trends
The South African government has authorised field trials of 2,4-D resistant soybean. Curiously, it has also authorised field trials involving 2,4-D resistant maize varieties, albeit that these events were already approved for commercial growing in 2019.
Authorisation has been given to export GM maize seeds (MON87640 X MON810 drought tolerant and Bt maize) to Kenya and Uganda for field trials. This variety has expressly been rejected by South African regulators for commercial growing in SA, due to non-performance.
South Africa continues to play a significant role in the global GM grain trade, with large imports of GM grain coming from Latin America, in particular Argentina, Brazil and Chile, which are re-exported to other parts of the continent, and beyond. Additionally, South Africa is used by the biotech industry as an experimental ground for both new and outdated GM varieties, which are then trialled in other countries.
Ongoing drought and far-reaching pest infestations are symptomatic of the deepening climate crisis and will likely increase GM grain exports to the continent, into countries such as Zimbabwe, which has lifted its 12-year ban on GMOs as a result of severe food shortages.
Currently, there are opportunities on the horizon to craft a global biodiversity framework. Such a framework could respond to the direct effect industrial agriculture is having on diminishing our global biodiversity, which GMOs are intricately part of, and which must be urgently addressed.