The advent of Nobel laureate Norman Borlaug’s Green Revolution was initially hailed as the way forward away from air, water, soil and food pollution. The World Food Organization continues to battle to have food security-a dream to many- dealt.
Enter recombinant DNA technology, gene splicing, biotechnology and the introduction of crops that could withstand the harshest of all climatic conditions and would become unpalatable or deadly to pests that reduce yields. This ontology is so far from the mind of the 1 porridge mix a day family as is the word Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) or the worms such as Annelida, Chaetognatha and Platyhelminthes and members of the same invertebrate family. What is the real problem?
|Simulation of a GM Fruit Photo:Courtesy|
First, the idea of “jumping genes.” If you can splice (or put in) a gene to render the corn poisonous to worms, what stops the gene being excised and translocated to a different location? Of note, if a worm nibbling on the plant or mechanical damage happens, is there a possibility that during DNA repair the gene in question could be picked up from the genetically modified plant into the wild type plant? The answer to that question unfortunately is a resounding yes. Now think of the repercussions African governments will have to deal with when their horticulture industry (Kenya are you listening) has to explain these things to their export markets if they discover that some plants within the midst are genetically modified.
Problem two: can you regenerate progeny from the crop in this current season to allow you to plant next years crop? The answer is unfortunately no! You have to consistently year by year buy new seeds. Over a few years, peasant farmers who initially used to plant a small fraction of their harvests will quickly slide into the 1 porridge a day situation simply because they will not be able to afford the seed. The result is, you would have moved from bad to worse. Remember, many rural people live on planning a fraction of last years’ harvest. Buying new seed is beyond their reach.
Problem three: in the current embargoes and untrusting relationships besides dishonoring contracts, if a giant seed company does not want to supply you with seed, then you’re basically holding an empty begging basket. Literally, Africans will be begging for seed. If the multinational company wants to raise its price, if it changes operating procedures and some markets are no longer profitable, or if a variety is defective, well, basically the country starves to death. You will have effectively removed the ability to regenerate food, and if there is no money, the basic necessity to live will be a thing for the rich.
Problem four: Why have the developers of the technology, who could have gained immensely from the technological breakthrough consistently alerted its consumers of the impending dangers? Are we Africans too gullible and greedy to overlook the medium to long term dangers?
Are we saying that with the introduction of genetically modified organisms we are removing the problem of food insecurity? I suspect there are better ways of addressing the problems of food shortages. This is not the forum to answer that question. However, this is the forum to alert those pushing for genetically modified foods that before we know it, a few multinational companies (armed to the teeth with patents) are waiting to sizzle Africans and move us all from where we are to 1 porridge a day and beyond.
By Isaac A. Choge
Director, Epidemiology Strategic and Integrated Health Services Department of Health, Pietermaritzburg, Kwazulu Natal.