Impending grain deficit in SADC rekindles GMO consideration

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From Akani Chauke in Johannesburg, South Africa

Amid strong indications that Southern Africa
is headed for yet another year of poor agricultural output, experts have
advised policymakers to encourage white maize production under
irrigation and temporarily ease restrictions on imports of the
genetically modified varieties of the commodity.

Imports of genetically white maize are restricted in the whole of
Southern African Development Community (SADC) region, except South
Africa.

Genetically modified foods are an emotive issue in the region. According
to the Southern African Research and Documentation Centre (SARDC), a
number of Southern African countries shun them since the technology is
still under experimentation. There are fears of bio-terrorism, and lack
of clarity about implications of genetically modified organisms (GMO)
technology.

The Agricultural Business Chamber (Agbiz), an influential association of
agribusinesses operating in Southern Africa, is advocating for
collaborations between authorities and private sector trading groups to
ensure that required maize is sourced from various parts of the world
timeously.

“This collaboration should include easing regulations on imports in
countries where such (GMO restriction) exists,” the organisation stated
this week.

The think-tank said the output in agriculture across the region called
for the need for forward planning, which would be key to mitigate the
effects of food insecurity.

“To this end, there is first a need to improve the timeliness and
quality of agricultural conditions data across the Southern African
region, especially for the staple crop which is maize.”

This remains a challenge for most African countries with the exception
of Zambia and South Africa, which frequently release data on
agricultural conditions and the expected crops harvest.

Agbiz’s recommendations follow the maize planting season getting off to
a bad start across the region in October and November.

Agbiz highlighted that the process had thus far disappointed because of
dryness in various countries, notably, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

These countries have already experienced a double-digit decline in maize
production in the 2018/19 production season, leaving Zimbabwe and
Mozambique as net importers of maize and other agricultural products.

Accordingly, the forecasts of another drought have raised fears that
there might not be a recovery in general agriculture production that
many had hoped for going into the 2019/20 season.

But, according to Agbiz, the dearth of timely data also increases
prospects of a slow response from policymakers, private sector firms
that operate within the food industry and various non-governmental
institutions that are concerned with food security in Southern Africa.

“Although we are yet to know how crop conditions will be over the coming
months and the potential size of import needed, if there is indeed a
poor harvest, it is best to be warned about the impacts of below-normal
rainfall beforehand rather than acting when it is too late.”

With another exporter in normal rainfall seasons, Tanzania, also
experiencing similar weather conditions, affected countries’ ability to
export are limited.

The World Food Programme (WFP) nonetheless has expressed optimism that
South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Malawi will be able to meet cereal
requirements for 2019/20.

In a recent update for Southern Africa, WFP noted much drier than
average conditions characterised the current rainfall season.

 From mid November, according to the United Nations food agency, rainfall
has improved significantly as at the end of the month.

“This will lead to suitable conditions for planting and early crop
development but drier conditions are likely to return in
December,” WFP stated.

– CAJ News

 

 

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