GM Cotton in Africa: Battleground Between US and Chinese Capital

The African Centre for Biodiversity
PO Box 29170, Melville 2109 South Africa
Tel: +27 (0)11 486 1156


Dear Friends and Colleagues

The African Centre for Biodiversity (ACBIO), shares with you its new research report titled, GM Cotton in Africa: Battleground between Chinese and US Capital.

The report shows that 13 African countries undertook field trials or granted approval for the commercial growing of genetically modified (GM) crops in 2016. Cotton is the first adopter GM crop to gain entry into countries where there is fierce opposition to eating GM food or using it as animal feed. There is, however, no barrier between fibre, feed and food with cotton as cotton seed oil is used in a range of food products across the continent, and by-products from the milling process is used for animal feed.

While currently, only South Africa and Sudan cultivate GM cotton commercially, commercial growing is expected in Ethiopia, Malawi and Kenya in 2018/19. Various entities supported by the United States (US) government, are also putting pressure on several African countries to relax their strict liability provisions in their biosafety laws. Zambia, Swaziland and Mozambique are in the process of doing so, and Tanzania has already done so. Yet in many countries such as Swaziland, field trials are being conducted without proper regulatory oversight.

While Monsanto is the dominant player in the GM seed market on the continent, it may increasingly face competition from Indian and Chinese government-backed companies. Regarding GM cotton seed, only South Africa, Kenya and Malawi are trialling or using Monsanto’s Bollgard II variety, while Swaziland is looking to use Indian GM varieties, Sudan is using a Chinese GM cotton variety and Ethiopia is sourcing seed from India and Sudan. China is a major trading partner for many African countries and source of foreign investment. It has publicly stated that the acquisition of Syngenta by Chinese state-owned ChemChina is to support the planting of GM crops on a very large scale; its extensive network of agricultural partnerships and investments across the continent could support generic GM cotton seed provision to African farmers.

The fight for control of GM based agriculture in Africa could play out between these two superpowers with India also coming into play in the future.

Kind regards ACB team

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