The fear that biotechnology crops or genetic modified crops pose adverse health effects without scientific evidence remains a big challenge to adoption and acceptance of the technology which has high ability to addressing global food insecurity.

The top challenge now in Europe is the fear of the unknown and that is really affecting everything, so the regulators and politicians are afraid, however, not so much of consumers to be honest, says Carel du Marchie Sarvaas, Director of Green Biotechnology Europe at EuropaBio.

?This is affecting the food industry, so food manufacturers, producers are all afraid and is driven by news stories which are not really true?? he said, in an interview.

EuropaBio represents all the big producers of biotech seeds around the world. There are same types of the organisation around the world, in Asia, Latin America. In Africa, the organisation works with different units and depends on the market and agriculture sizes, some of the focus countries in Africa include Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, Egypt and South Africa.

?The untrue stories are given lots of publicity and have been allowed to live for ten to 15 years mainly due to the fact that the issue of biotechnology is more technical so people find it difficult to judge what is true or not true??, Sarvaas emphasised.

According to him, EuropaBio have spent a lot time educating people on what the technology is all about, as well as the benefits in the media and campaigns geared towards creating a better understanding of the technology.

In Africa biotechnology is just beginning and there is little knowledge concerning the pros and cons. As a result some non-governmental organisations have embarked on negative campaigns about the technology without providing balanced information on the technology and the media also gives it headlines.

?I would say it is the fear of the unknown because the technology is new and in some countries the capacity to understand the technology and also to appreciate it benefits and also to understand its dangers have not been well elucidated that is why there is a controversy??, says Richard Akromah, Dean, Faculty of Agriculture of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Ghana.

?Some NGOs such as Friends of Earth and opponents of the technology are all always giving one side (disadvantages) of the story without balancing it with the other side (advantages)??, he said.

Sarvaas noted that in Africa the worse negative influence of biotechnology is on media reportage; the Seralini report (a French professor who consistently attacked GMOs to be harmful but was untrue) got lots of media headlines because the media do not understand the science or too scared of the science. ?Hence, the media report untrue stories and that have had negative effects in Africa. The Kenya government admits it was affected the report, and same can be said in Asia, and Latin America??.

The new Global Status of Commercialized Biotechnology crops 2012 report has found that the African continent is making giant strides in cultivation of biotechnology crops. Sudan joined South Africa, Burkina Faso and Egypt, to bring the total number of African biotechnology countries to four.

Another obstacle is the European regulatory system which is complex; thereby getting a product unto the market is very complicated and expensive. ?As a result multibillion companies are even questioning if it is worth all the time and money to invest in a biotech product??, Sarvaas says.

EuropaBio collaborates with the African Seeds Association, which is actively involved in biotech programmes in Africa. One of the projects deals with creating good regulatory frameworks in Africa.

?One of the problems is putting in place good regulatory framework which takes a lot of time and money as well as technical know-how. Even in Europe, we don?t do it at the national level, but we do it with 27 member states of Europe.

?So one of the things we are trying to promote in Africa is that there is pooling of resources from different countries so for example we look at the approval of seeds, maybe 15 countries together or all of Africa so that there is regulatory convergence??, he stated.

 

He is optimistic that agriculture in Africa is becoming much more efficient. ?Sub Saharan Africa with the right technology and logistics can become the bread basket of the world, the region has the right land and water??.

However, the problem is changing the culture of African farmers who are mostly seed keepers, so introducing a new approach where they have to buy new seeds every year is a new tradition to African farmers especially smallholder farmers.

?Smallholder farmers are not used to this, the problem is how to keep many labourers on the land, this calls for creation of structures of lands that are both cooperative and individual in nature??, Sarvaas adds.

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