Does Africa Need Genetically Modified Sorghum?

Grinding Sorghum Photo

Milling Sorghum photo by petite artichoke via flickr

Genetically modified sorghum is coming to Africa. South Africa based Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) has received approval from the South Africa government to proceed with trials of genetically modified sorghum in a "level three biosafety greenhouse." While the council and their supporters, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and DuPont, applaud the decision, opponents of the Africa Biofortified Sorghum project protest that it threatens one of Africa's most important heritage crops.
CSIR expresses their outlook on why Africa needs genetically modified sorgum.

Sorghum is an African crop that is the staple food of millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa. While it is one of the few crops that grow well in arid parts, it is lacking in most essential nutrients and it has poor protein digestibility. Scientific evidence shows that deficiencies in essential micronutrients - such as iron, zinc, Vitamin A and others - can cause impaired immune systems, blindness, low birth weight, impaired neuropsychological development and growth stunting. Malnutrition remains a leading direct and indirect cause of the rise in the many non-communicable diseases, especially in Africa.

Opponents, including GRAIN and the African Centre for Biosafety (ACB) feel that the risks for eventual cross pollination with heritage sorghum and wild species related to sorghum make the risks to great. Elfrieda Pschorn-Strauss, program officer with GRAIN says,

'It is not for the South African government to decide, on behalf of the rest of Africa, that they may approve an industrial project which will result in the inevitable contamination of Africa's astounding genetic diversity in sorghum. This crop has been developed and cared for by farmers for over 5 000 years.'

Opponents go on to say that introducing genetically modified foods into Africa under the guise of improving nutrition is a trojan horse. The African Centre for Biosafety explains,

The ABS project is being developed for commercial release and the CSIR will be seeking permission for field trials soon.

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