Nairobi – Genetically modified (GM) crops could give South Africa a competitive advantage in terms of access to the European Union market in the face of policy changes by the bloc.
Two agricultural policy experts have suggested a slew of options that South Africa can exploit to adapt to new EU regulations that seek to minimise the environmental and carbon footprint of food production and consumption.
Key opportunities lie in shifting towards lower fertiliser and chemical use, and reducing soil contamination.
“The European Union is the second most important market for South Africa’s agricultural products, accounting for 27 percent of the country’s total agricultural exports,” note Dr Tinashe Kapuya (head, supply chain research at South Africa’s Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy), and Mr Wandile Sihlobo (chief economist, Agricultural Business Chamber of South Africa).
“A new set of regulations under the EU Green Deal and its Farm to Fork Strategy are set to impose additional compliance costs that will likely negate the benefits of existing preferential trade arrangements.”
The regulations impose additional stringent measures that limit access to the EU market for unsustainably produced crops. However, South Africa has an edge because GM crops are already working to improve agriculture’s sustainability by reducing pesticide use and tillage and improving crop yields.
The Green Deal seeks to transform the EU into a modern, resource-efficient and competitive economy, while ensuring no net emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050. The Farm to Fork Strategy, which is within the ambit of the Green Deal, aims to make food systems fair, healthy and environmentally friendly.
Dr Kapuya and Mr Sihlobo say the regulations, which come into effect in 2022, demand investment in compliance by South Africa.
“Over the years, South African agribusinesses have had to conform to stringent EU regulatory standards, as well as an ever-increasing set of private standards related to traceability, authenticity, exposure to allergens, good farming practice, child labour, sustainable farming, sustainable farming practice, and various kinds of certification. With Fair Trade Certification costing over US$1000 for smallholder farmers, resource-poor farming households can seldom afford such high costs of adopting new regulations and certification. Without financial support, most smallholder farmers will inevitably be excluded from participating in export markets,” they observe.
The experts propose re-mapping of the country’s food systems to make them more dynamic, resilient and sustainable.
South Africa has achieved marked success with GM crops in the past three decades, and by 2019 it was world’s ninth largest supplier of such produce.
Amongst adaptation measures, Dr Kapuya and Mr Sihlobo propose that, “Part of that process will be to expand the adoption of high-yielding, drought- and pest-tolerant genetically engineered crops that will enable farmers to produce more food with less land. This will also allow for more land to be set aside for preservation and increase the potential for carbon sequestration.”