By Sharon Atieno

In a bid to cope with challenges related to new pests’ infestations and climate change impacts, African countries are slowly warming up to biotech crops.

The number of African countries planting biotech crops has doubled from three in 2018 to six in 2019.This is according to the latest report of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) on the Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops, 2019 (ISAAA Brief 55) launched via a webinar.

The report shows Ethiopia, Malawi and Nigeria as the latest countries to plant GM crops joining South Africa, Sudan and Eswatini. The six countries grew three biotech crops – maize, soybean and cotton – on approximately three million hectares by end of 2019.

The seventh country, Kenya, granted approval for cultivation of Bt cotton and may soon join the league of adopter nations on the continent. Nigeria approved commercial planting of Pod Borer-Resistant (PBR) GM cowpea adding a new biotech crop to the global biotech basket, says the report.

Africa has also recorded significant progress in biotech crop research, regulation, and acceptance as evident in Mozambique, Niger, Ghana, Rwanda and Zambia.

According to the report, Niger becomes the latest country to pass their Biosafety Law. Rwanda joined Kenya and Uganda in carrying out research into GM cassava (Rwanda has already started confined field trials for GM cassava in 2020).

Africa currently has 6 crops in the research and development pipeline namely: banana, cassava, potato, rice, sorghum and plantain.

Globally, the addition of these three African countries, has increased the number of countries planting biotech crops from 26 to 29.

The top five countries with the widest area of biotech crops were the USA, Brazil, Argentina, Canada, and India. With high adoption rates of principal biotech crops in these countries, approximately 1.95 billion people or 26% of the world reaped the benefits of biotechnology in 2019.

In total, 190.4 million hectares of biotech crops were grown in 29 countries in 2019, contributing significantly to food security, sustainability, climate change mitigation, and uplifting lives of up to 17 million biotech farmers and their families worldwide.

Double-digit growth rates in biotech crop areas were recorded in developing countries, particularly in Vietnam, the Philippines, and Colombia.