Rwanda Must Pick a Side in its GMO Debate

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Like a phoenix, Rwanda is fast rising towards a future that is inclusive, innovative and self-reliant. It is in this vein that last year, the Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA) began drafting a law seeking to regulate the country’s use of genetically modified organisms if and when it adopts their use. This policy framework would guide the import, distribution, and cultivation of genetically modified crops in the country. Not many Rwandans are excited about the prospects of GMOs, even as a measure to ensure food security in the region, as the Ministry of Agriculture says.

While some groups’ sentiments are around the long-term effects of consuming genetically modified foods, many are more concerned, and legitimately so, about the politics of this industry given that only a handful of multinationals control the production of genetically modified seeds across the globe. With its current clean slate – no GM crop has been introduced into the country yet – the government must take a critical look at both sides of this passionate debate before deciding which side it will fare on.

Agriculture biotechnology is a broad term used to describe techniques such as genetic engineering, tissue culture, and molecular markers, employed to impart resistance (pests, drought or flood resistance) to plants, animals, and organisms; or sometimes to improve nutrient quality as is the case with genetically modified sorghum and golden rice, which are enhanced with high content of vitamin A, iron and zinc. Around the world, GM crops are grown by approximately 18 million farmers and imported or researched in more than 75 countries.

The world population is projected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050, with Africa accounting for more than half of this population. The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) says the world will need 60% more food than it currently produces to feed its new entrants. Yet, arguments that the growing of genetically modified crops will help solve its food security challenge isn’t rooted in reality.

“GMOs aren’t silver bullets to tackling food security; it is only one tool in a breeder’s toolbox,” says Modesta Abugu, a Programme Assistant at the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB), a pro-GMO organization with chapters across Africa. Nonetheless, GM crops have been credited with increased food production and reduced losses from pest attacks and adverse weather conditions.

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