After years of delay, Kenya is set to lift its ban on GMOs. Facing down pressure from EU officials and a massive anti-GMO propaganda campaign by EU-funded NGOs, the East African country will soon set the regulatory requirements for the commercialization of genetically modified crops.[1] In doing so, Kenya will join the small band of other African nations (South Africa, Nigeria,  Burkina Faso, Egypt and Sudan) that have defied EU dictats in order to allow their farmers to use the same modern agricultural technologies that farmers in North and South America, Asia, Australia, and even parts of Europe rely on to produce strong, healthy and high-yielding crops.

In a last ditch attempt to stop the new law, European NGOs recently testified before the Kenyan Senate to recyle the same discredited claims they have flooded the African press with for years -- including grotesque pictures of malformed babaies and Stephanie Seneff’s notorious graph linking GMOs to every known malady known to man, from Asthma to Cancer to infertility to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. But it looks like some governments in Africa are getting wise to the game being played by the EU.

Kenya’s decision to move forward with GMO legalization isn’t just a boon to farmers. It’s a rejection of the environmentalist superstition in favor of science-based regulation. And it’s a bold challenge to Europe’s strong-arm neo-colonialist policies -- which are clearly designed to keep Africa in a state of agricultural under-development, a cheap source of “organic” food that can’t compete with Europe’s own increasingly hamstrung and unproductive farmers.

When it comes to agriculture, it seems, the colonial era never ended. Not just in Kenya, but across the continent, Europe is actively fighting modernization of Africa’s overly restrictive biosafety and pesticide rules. Those rules invariably prevent African farmers from taking advantage of innovative farming  technologies. Meanwhile, European banks are pushing low-tech, no-tech (i.e. low harvest, no harvest), growing practices on farmers as a condition for financial aid, even as Brussels wields its own pesticide and GMO restrictions like a cudgel to protect its growers and control access to its markets.

Africa’s dependence on the EU market gives Brussels an outsized role in what the continent grows and how  it grows it. Three-quarters of African agricultural exports currently go to the EU. Europe continues to insist that in order to keep its agricultural market doors open, African countries must forego deploying many tools of modern farming, including GMO crop varieties and pesticides.

For example, right now a deadly root disease is ravaging Uganda’s chilies harvest. Uganda earns over $100 million annually from EU food exports, including chilies. Despite local farmers desperate need of  tools to fight the impending crop devastation, a Eurocrat at the Dutch Embassy in Kampala, the capital city, explicitly threatened the nation’s chilies growers. He threatened their products would be banned from European grocery stores and restaurants unless “the pesticides they use comply with the EU’s very strict standards,”[2] no matter whether any of those pesticides could be found on the actual chilies.

The EU also imposes unreasonable moratoriums on the sale of African products from new biotechnology. For example, in Ethiopia insects are developing resistance to current means of protecting the country’s $41 billion annual maize crop.  The country’s Institute of Agricultural Research (AAR) is currently testing an insect-resistant and drought-tolerant maize variety.   The innovative GMO maize  could solve the insect problem, in the process adding more than $6 billion to the country’s economy. But as of today, catering to the EU would impose an up-to-six year delay in approving sale of the new maize variety within its borders, preventing Ethiopian farmers from realizing the economic benefits of up to 37% reduction in pesticide usage and an increase in yields of more than 21%.[3]

The other country that has borne the brunt of EU’s anti-GMOs policy is Nigeria. Nigeria’s annual cowpea production is valued in excess of $1.6 billion. But the Maruca insect and other pests threaten it. The Agricultural Research Council of Nigeria (ARCN) is testing a biotech-enhanced, insect resistant cowpea variety. If introduced this year, the innovative crop could add a $187 million annually to the local economy.[4]

In Tanzania[5], Ghana[6], and elsewhere on the continent there are similar stories. Wageningen University researchers in the Netherlands estimate the costs of delayed biotechnology adoption across the African continent to be in the hundreds of millions of U.S. dollars in lost economic opportunity for small holder farmers. Further, they estimate these delays have also cost thousands of lives lost to hunger and malnutrition.[7]

Europeans will often cite their “high-standards” when it comes to GMOs and pesticide regulations. But they have failed to acknowledge that those “standards” are based on politics, not science. The World Trade Organization (WTO) has already ruled that the “standards” violate its own stipulated scientific standards for GMOs.

Just this summer, 16 WTO members slammed EU limits on pesticide residues in imported agricultural products as clearly not conforming to WTO rules on science-based risk assessments. “ It appears that the EU is unilaterally attempting to impose its own domestic regulatory approach onto its trading partners,”[8] the members said.

The EU’s current position on GMOs isn’t about science or safety. It’s old-fashioned protectionism, enforced to shield European  farmers from global competition.

It’s is also a formula for halting Africa’s ability to improve its agriculture. Reaping higher yields and diversifying crops are keys to economic growth throughout Africa, both for generating export income and lowering the price of food in local market places. Despite having 65 percent of the world’s cultivatable arable land, Africa has been a net food importer for more than 30 years.[9]

African farmers and families pay the price for Europe’s imperial edicts against progress.

The stakes are enormous. To feed a growing population and create surpluses needed to generate export income, we must expand African food production by 60 percent by 2030.[10] Without modernization, the specter of poverty, dependence and even starvation will continue to loom over the continent. No region has built a modern economy without modernizing its agricultural sector. But so long as the EU and its food and agriculture regulations, by design, drive Africa’s development choices, Africa and its farmers will not control their own destiny.

References:

[1] https://www.agribusinessglobal.com/markets/africa-middle-east/kenya-set…

[2] https://www.dw.com/en/uganda-risks-eu-ban-over-fresh-export-standards/a…

[3] Challenges and Opportunities of Genetically Modified Crops Production; Future Perspectives in Ethiopia, Review. By  Kiros Gebretsadik, Ashenafi Kiflu. The Open Agriculture Journal. SSN: 1874-3315 ― Volume 13, 2019.

[4] Nigeria’s new cowpea variety to fetch $187m, APA News, June 14, 2019.

[5] Researchers tout biotech for farming, The Citizen, October 25, 2018.

[6] New Rice, Cowpea To Fetch Country Ghc800 Million, Peace FM, December 2, 2018

[7] Foregone benefits of important food crop improvements in Sub-Saharan Africa. PLOS ONE. By Justus Wesseler ,Richard D. Smart ,Jennifer Thomson ,David Zilberman. July 27, 2017

[8] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trade-eu-agriculture/u-s-and-15-others-slam-eu-regulation-of-farm-products-at-wto-idUSKCN1TZ1MU

[9] https://www.downtoearth.org.in/coverage/agriculture/the-africa-file-585…

[10] https://www.brookings.edu/blog/africa-in-focus/2016/01/22/foresight-africa-2016-banking-on-agriculture-for-africas-future/

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