A matter of asking the right questions…Water Efficient Maize

In Africa, maize is a main source of food for millions on people. Which is a very good reason that government’s of Africa really should take a precautionary approach in how these crops are grown and be informed enough to ask the right questions.

Written by African Centre of Biodiversity

The Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) project aims to produce drought-tolerant and insect-protected maize varieties, both conventional and genetically modified (GM), for Africa. While there is no doubt that the climate change problem for farmers is very real and tools are needed for them to be able to adapt and to increase their resilience, the WEMA project deserves further scrutiny, not only for the GM component, which raises biosafety and other concerns, but also for the model of agriculture it is promoting.

A recent civil society knowledge and information sharing on the WEMA project brought together representatives from civil society organisations from the five WEMA countries (Kenya, Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda) to discuss the project.  The meeting was organized by the African Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) and the Kenya Biodiversity Coalition (KBioC) and held in Naivasha, Kenya from 19 to 21 July 2017. Lim Li Ching from the Third World Network writes about the event, which provided an opportunity to participants to commit to working together.

Concerns Raised

Several concerns were raised about the GM drought-tolerant maize, including whether or not genetic engineering is fit for purpose in this case, given that drought is a complex challenge that doesn’t lend itself to single gene solutions.  Moreover, the GM drought-tolerant maize will not be available without the insect-resistant trait, and participants wondered why a failed event such as MON 810 was being ‘donated’ to four of the five countries (South Africa, which has phased out MON 810 maize due to the development of insect resistance, will be donated a two-toxin event instead).
Participants also discussed alternative solutions to climate change, such as agroecology. Time and again, we have seen that real solutions do not lie with corporations or the industrial model of agriculture, but are instead in the hands of farmers and farmer-managed seed systems.

Download Li Ching’s blog here.


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Sonia Mountford

Sonia Mountford lived as an expat in the Middle East for a number of years and enjoyed travelling and exposure to third and first world cultures. Her interest in food security began while visiting in Sri Lanka after floods and discovering the politics around Food Aid. As a co-founder of Grass Consumer Action and the only full time member, she spent four years researching the dysfunctional food system in South Africa, investigating, questioning and exposing misleading claims. Although her interests range from food politics to toxins in our food, including harmful ingredients in processed foods and Big Food influence; she soon came to realize that the most important part of the food journey begins on farms. For that reason she spends much of her time visiting farms, learning and talking about constraints and concerns in production methods with farmers. Passionate about nutritional food security she believes higher animal welfare farming practices are not only necessary for ethical reasons but also for human health. She is an ambassador for SOIL, BEES and healthy WATER. Mountford started EATegrity (eategrity.co.za) “Helping You Find Integrity in the Food Chain” in 2015. Her aim is create greater consumer awareness about the food chain and to encourage transparency in the South African food industry.