Tag Archives: Abiy imposes GMO

GMO debate is democratic test for liberalizing Ethiopia

3 Jun

Posted By The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)

by Teshome Hunduma

As the government controversially opens Ethiopia to genetically modified crops, now is the time for newly unshackled civil society voices to lead the debate @EthiopiaInsight

This echoes worrying trends elsewhere. Debates on GMOs across the globe have suffered from high levels of polarization, often disintegrating into a battle between modernization and farmers’ rights. In reality, smallholder farmers’ interests and needs often lie somewhere in between. Ethiopia now has the opportunity to show global leadership by bridging this divide. To do this, Ethiopia must nurture a respectful and balanced debate that can be the foundation of a much-needed institutional framework to regulate GMOs.

A coalition of Ethiopian Civil Society Organizations and their global allies have launched a campaign against the cultivation of Genetically Modified Organisms in Ethiopia.

The public outcry started when United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Foreign Agricultural Service published a report that revealed that the government had approved commercial cultivation of genetically modified (GM) insect-resistant cotton (Bt-cotton) and confined trial of GM enset and maize in Ethiopia.

In 2015, the Ethiopian parliament opened up the country to genetically modified organisms (GMOs) by loosening the safeguards built into a 2009 biosafety law. Three years later, the government approved commercial cultivation of a strain of cotton.

Despite this, there has been limited public debate or media coverage. Yet, the moves broke with decades of Ethiopian public policy and have major implications for Africa as a whole.

The Ethiopian approach was praised in the above-mentioned report published in February 2020: “approval of commercial cultivation of genetically modified (GM) insect-resistant cotton (Bt-cotton) and confined field trail on GM maize can be taken as an effort to improve agricultural productivity using modern agricultural tools.”

Pleased with the government’s deeds, the report went on to state that the country’s “adoption of Bt-cotton not only has [high] economic importance but [is] also expected to have [a] positive influence on the acceptance of this technology in the region.”

Criticizing the government for its past precautionary approach to GMOs, the report says Ethiopia is now on track “especially considering that a decade ago the country was at the forefront of the anti-GMO movement in Africa.”

The USDA’s appreciation of Ethiopia’s policy change may well be driven by a strategic interest for the U.S. and its multinationals to use Ethiopia as a springboard to expand GMO cultivation in Africa.

Despite GMO establishment of various crops in South Africa since the late 1990s, expansion elsewhere on the continent has thus far been restricted to four out of the 47 countries, and with the exception of South Africa, limited to Bt cotton.  However, there are indications that this may change. While recent droughts have led Zambia and Zimbabwe to lift bans on importation of GM maize for consumption, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Uganda seem to be the new target countries for expanding GM production. Uganda has allowed trials for genetically modified banana in last few years. Rwanda is considering opening up to genetically modified potato.

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