Failure of Monsanto’s drought tolerant maize pushed on Africa – confirmed in US

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Sabrina Masinjila is the outreach and advocacy officer with the African Centre for Biodiversity (ACB), based in Tanzania.

Anne Maina is the coordinator for the Kenya Biodiversity Coalition (KBioC).

Reposted by Becca Fogel.


A recent USDA report has confirmed that Monsanto’s drought-tolerant maize is not nearly as successful in terms of both yield and adoption rates when compared to non-GE drought-tolerant corn. The drought-tolerant GE maize was developed for use in Africa by the Gates Foundation and Monsanto-funded Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) project. WEMA trials have been underway for several years in South Africa, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, and Mozambique. These GE varieties entail the modification of a single gene; however, multiple genes, and relationships between them, control drought tolerance in plants. Further, drought responses vary based on the drought’s timing, duration, and severity.

Non-GE drought-tolerant corn was introduced in the US in 2011, while GE drought-tolerant corn came two years later. By 2016, over 80% of drought-tolerant corn planted in the US was with non-GE seed, and only 3% used GE seed. The USDA report states that this lag in adoption rates of GE seed confirms the lack of efficacy of the drought-tolerant trait in the GE seed.

In October 2018, South African biosafety officials rejected an application by Monsanto to cultivate a triple-stacked drought-tolerant variety, due to the same reasons cited in the USDA report. In November 2018, the Tanzanian government put an end to all field trials of drought-tolerant GE maize crops, conducted at the Tanzania Agriculture Research Institute, due to unauthorized use and release of the trial results.

In Kenya, the WEMA drought-tolerant GE maize has been rebranded as TELA Maize, and scientists are calling for its commercialization throughout the country through the Cornell Alliance for Science’s biotech communications platform. However, only conditional approval has been granted for National Performance Trials in Kenya pending a full Environmental Impact Assessment. Recently, extremely high temperatures from December 2018 to February 2019 resulted in a huge failure of WEMA non-GE hybrids while local Open Pollinated Varieties have been much more resilient.

While climate change is a major challenge for smallholder farmers in Africa, it will not be addressed by a single non-performing drought-tolerant GE trait promoted by Monsanto and the biotech industry. The real solutions lie in increasing diversity and building resilience through locally-adapted seeds. Smallholder farmers should be at the center of the programs that strengthen and support their share of agricultural production.

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