Updates + Overviews


Current Status of GM approvals for cultivation on the continent 

  • GM crops based on old GM technologies are only grown on 2.9 mil ha in Africa, 93% of this – in SA (maize, soybean and cotton). This is with the same old GM traits. 
  • Other countries such as Sudan, Malawi, Ethiopia, Eswatini, Nigeria and Kenya have commercialised the cultivation of GM (Bt) cotton. 
  • Worrying is also the commercial approval of Bt cowpea in Nigeria in 2019 which poses grave dangers and risks of contamination in a country that is the largest producer of cowpea globally, and a centre of origin and diversity of cowpea. Bt cowpea is also being pushed for commercialisation in Ghana as they have already conducted field trials. 
  • Other countries are conducting field trials of other GM crops such as cassava, cowpea, banana, Irish potato - also involving old GM technologies and this is taking place in various African countries including Mozambique, Kenya, Uganda, Ghana, Burkina Faso and Rwanda. 
  • Bt maize, imminent in Kenya, alongside GM cassava
  • We are also seeing approval of import commodities such as Wheat in Nigeria (see here) but also as feed in Kenya – due to famine as a result of climate change 

New GM technologies – genome editing 

Also see ACB’s alert on genome editing in Africa 

  • African is now being confronted with the renewed push to uptake ‘new’ wave of GM technologies. This is despite these going beyond the scope of current regulations for GMOs and within a context of strained regulatory capacity and lack of experience and transparency which raises grave regulatory, political and socio-economic concerns. 
  • At the moment, project focusing on development of genome edited crops using CRISPR/Cas 9 technology on cassava, maize, wheat, banana, sorghum, and the proposed use of gene drive technologies for the eradication of malaria, are currently underway in several African countries, including Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda, Ethiopia, Egypt, Ghana, Burkina Faso and Mali.
  • Specifically in Kenya, gene editing is being done in collaboration with CIMMYT and KARLO, Corteva, USDA-ARS to control Maize Lethal Necrosis (MLN) 
  • Genome editing for roots and tubers such as banana, cassava for common diseases such as bacterial wilt 
  • Improving oil qualities of Ethiopian Mustard (through application of CRISPR/Cas 9) being conducted by the Institute of Biotechnology Ethiopia
  • Application of targeted gene editing for development of high yielding, stress resistant and nutritious crops: Cassava, rice and maize 
  • See link here for more information 
  • This thrust is being promoted and financed by the usual corporate and philanthropy-capitalist machinery, by way of public-private partnerships. 
  • We also have the African Orphan Crop Consortium (AOCC), funded by NEPAD and Mars Incorporated, has been sequencing the genomes of 101 African indigenous crops, to facilitate the uptake of new technologies in regard to underutilized African “orphan” crops. 
  • The goal is to sequence 101 traditional African food crops to supposedly “improve their nutritional content,” as well as to train 250 plant breeders in genomics and marker-assisted selection for crop improvement over a five-year period. Open access sequences enable important medicinal and nutritional crops to be mined for disease resistance, flavour ingredients and medicinal properties, and to be genome edited by agrochemical companies. 
  • Such projects are bound to facilitate the data mining of useful genetic information particularly from African indigenous crop varieties epitomising the new digital age of biopiracy.


Gene drives 


Regulation of genome editing in African countries 

  • Several African countries, such as Kenya, Nigeria, have embarked upon developing permissive regulatory guidelines for genome editing technologies. 
  • However, it has been suggested that these guidelines may only regulate applications where foreign DNA is intentionally inserted thus excluding applications where no foreign DNA has been inserted e.g., Nigeria and Kenya. However, this still raises biosafety concerns, as well as concerns relating to insufficient capacity and infrastructure on the part of African governments to regulate both the early and now the new GM technologies.
  • South Africa – says same regulations will apply but the industry has been appealed and challenged by a consortium of industrial agricultural players through an appeal launched in November 2021. See latest ACB blog here
  • Kenya’s guidelines exclude genome edited organisms/products from the purview of regulation including all modifications where genes are used from sexually compatible species, where gene regulatory elements are from the same species, all deletions/knockouts where the regulatory elements are from the same species, processed products whose inserted foreign DNA sequences cannot be detected. What are included within the scope of the Guidelines are insertions containing foreign genes, and regulatory elements from a non-sexually compatible species where foreign DNA is detectable. Also see excerpt from ACB’s latest here and Kenya’s new guidelines on genome editing 

(Information provided by African Centre for Biodiversity in August 2022)

Organisations and institutions active on GMO

African Centre for Biodiversity (ACB)

Greenpeace Africa