South Africa’s Experiences with MON810 Maize


Dear friends and colleagues, 

Re: South Africa’s experiences with MON810 maize 

A recent briefing paper published by the African Centre for Biosafety examines South Africa’s experience with Monsanto’s earliest insect-resistant Bt technology – MON810 maize – and has found that the product failed within 15 years of adoption.  

Factors that contributed to this failure include the widespread development of resistance in the target pest, the African stem borer. Other causes for the failure include the fact that MON810 was introduced before the technology was properly understood. This was compounded by the fact that an effective regulatory framework was not yet in place to monitor and administer genetically modified (GM) crops in South Africa. In addition, farmer management of GM crops is new and burdensome for farmers and the monitoring of compliance is expensive and difficult.  

MON 810 is no longer available in South Africa as of the 2013 planting season, and has been replaced by a stacked Bt maize variety, in an attempt to deal with the insect resistance problem.  

Despite these lessons, other African countries are showing an eagerness to try out the same failed technology. The briefing examines the deployment of MON810 on the rest of the African continent, including through charitable projects. 

The key findings are reproduced below. The full paper is available at: 

With best wishes, 

Third World Network

131 Jalan Macalister

10400 Penang



Website: and

To subscribe to other TWN information services:


Africa Bullied to Grow Defective Bt Maize: The Failure of Monsanto’s MON810 Maize in South Africa 

African Centre for Biosafety 


1. Monsanto’s Bt maize, MON810, has failed hopelessly in South Africa as a result of massive insect resistance, after only 15
years of its introduction into commercial agriculture. In an effort to deal with the pest infestation, Monsanto has compensated South African farmers who experienced more than 10% damage on their genetically modified (GM) insect resistant crops – some farmers experienced as high as 50% insect infestation. MON810 is now obsolete in SA and has been replaced with Monsanto’s GM stacked variety, MON8903, which expresses two different cry proteins, Cry1A.105 and Cry2Ab. 

2. Bt technology was approved in SA before regulatory authorities were capacitated to regulate it properly. MON810 was not fit for commercial release and should never have been granted commercial approval. The necessary monitoring of insect resistance was not carried out and regulators did not ensure that farmers were carrying out the required insect resistance management (IRM) strategies, i.e. planting refuges. 

3. In any event, IRM strategies were based on the false assumption that the inheritance of resistance to MON810 was a recessive, not dominant trait. In terms of this false assumption, current IRM strategies require farmers to plant a 5% non-Bt maize ‘refuge’ which may not be sprayed, or a 20% refuge which may be sprayed. However, recent research has shown that the inheritance of resistance is a dominant trait and that in order to stem rapid and large-scale resistance, farmers will need to plant more than 50% non-Bt maize as a refuge where non-resistant individuals can breed. This requirement is not viable for farmers, highlighting the unsustainability of the technology. 

4. In Kenya, an attempt to commercialise publically developed Bt technology in open-pollinated seed (which can produce a viable crop year after year) by a charitable project called Insect Resistant Maize for Africa (IRMA), funded by the Syngenta Foundation, failed after 10 years of work. IRMA was unable to find Bt genes in the public domain that were effective against the African stem borer. It also came to realise that Bt technology cannot be used in open-pollinated varieties because reusing seed that has been engineered with Bt genes would expedite the development of insect resistance, rendering the technology useless within a couple of seasons. The IRMA project also found the cost of biotech seeds prohibitive for typical African farmers. Hence IRMA abandoned their attempt to bring Bt technology to resource poor farmers.  

5. Another charitable project, the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) project which for the best part of five years only focused on drought tolerant maize varieties in South Africa, Tanzania, Mozambique, Kenya and Uganda is now incorporating MON810 into their drought tolerant varieties. Monsanto has donated MON810 to the project, royalty free. Unlike IRMA, WEMA’s values are not underpinned by a desire to bring GM crops that are appropriate for African farmers onto the market. Although WEMA’s products are said to be ‘royalty free’ to small-holder farmers, the seed will be sold to seed companies under strict licensing conditions. Under the auspices of the WEMA project, trials of MON810 are already taking place in Kenya and Uganda. WEMA is thus a convenient vehicle for Monsanto to gain regulatory approval in Africa for the commercial cultivation of MON810.  

6. In Egypt, MON810 has been genetically engineered into a local Egyptian maize variety called Ajeeb. This Egyptian variety has now been patented by Monsanto. The introduction of GM technology on a large scale in Egypt has largely failed to date, due to corruption and difficulties in passing its Biosafety law. The Egyptian government has published three peer reviewed studies in the past two years on Ajeeb YieldGard maize that have found:  

7. Bt maize showed significant differences when compared to its conventional counterpart and may be toxic to the human food and animal feed; and

8. Several changes were noted in the organs, body weight and serum biochemistry in rats fed on GM maize.


articles post