ONE GOAL: Minister of Tourism and Environmetal Affairs Jabulani Mabuza posing with delegates during the presentation of ISAAA Global Report on the status of commercialised biotech/GM crops at Mountain Inn on Wednesday. (Pic: Winile Mavuso)
MINISTER of Tourism and Environmental Affairs Jabulani Mabuza has challenged local farmers to embrace genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and apply the technology to maximise their produce.
The minister was speaking during the launch the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) Global Report on the status of commercialised biotech/GM crops at Mountain Inn on Wednesday. In his speech, the minister noted that farmers were risk takers as they relied on rains to grow their crops.
“I am happy that amongst us we have farmers who use faith as they produce crops. They rely on the weather updates issued by the Meteorological Services. They plant with the belief that it will rain,” he said.
Mabuza said Swazis should not shy away from this technology, but should embrace and learn more about GMOs and apply the technology. Over 20 countries around the world are using this technology with only three in Africa.
South Africa is one of the countries that grow genetically modified crops such as soya, maize and cotton. Plans are underway to include potatoes and sugar cane.
The minister noted that the country was a signatory of the Caratgena Protocol on Biosaftey and therefore, had an obligation to advance and implement its National Biosaftey Framework.
“The protocol openly embraces biotechnology as well as products, but worth noting is its precautionary approach to using it; to ensure safety to human healthy and the environment during use, handling and transboundary movement of GMOs,” the minister said.
The minister told the meeting that the country had enacted laws aimed at domesticating the protocol, and noted, however that not much activity had been witnessed yet in as far as growing biotechnology crops.
Broiler chickens are not a GMO
Dr Bongani Maseko from the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) has come out to clarify that the six-weeks broiler chickens (bolamthuthu) are not genetically modified organisms.
A genetically modified organism (GMO) is an organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques and this is not the case with these chickens. However, it is the feed that is produced from genetically modified crops as the country imports most of such animal feed from South Africa. Dr Maseko said some people also said big fruits were also GMOs, rubbishing it as a total misconception.
He explained that GMOs allowed farmers to produce more using limited resources (land and water). He said the world needed a paradigm shift as production has to double to respond to the increasing population.
He revealed that over 18 million farmers in over 22 countries around the world were using biotechnology. He noted that 70 percent of cotton grown around the world was GMO and only 32 percent maize.
He noted, however, that the technology was expensive but justified that with the high yield that farmers would realise, they will be in a position to afford it.
He said this technology had many benefits including improved productivity, protection of biodiversity, environmental impact and poverty alleviation.
Farmers want to do trials on GMO cotton
SWAZILAND seems to be adapting to technology as farmers have taken an initiative to produce genetically modified cotton.
The Swaziland Cotton Board has already filed an application with the Swaziland Environment Authority (SEA), as the competent authority mandated to handle these issues, to bring the genetically modified cotton seeds into the country.
The cotton will be brought in strictly for confined trial purposes and farmers are warned that it is against the law to use the seeds for other purposes.
This will be the first GMO (genetically modified organisms) to be imported into the country for production and if it is approved, it will be open to other farmers to produce. The permit is yet to be approved by the SEA.
“At the moment, there has not been much activity when it comes to biotech crops in the country, but I am aware that the National Biosaftey Advisory Committee (NBAC) has been reviewing an application from the Swaziland Cotton Board to conduct confined field trials and the committee is on the verge of finalising the review and assessment of sites where the trials will be conducted.
Hopefully, the SEA will be getting advise from the committee soon,” said Minister of Tourism and Environmental Affairs Jabulani Mabuza.
The minister was optimistic that should the permit be granted, Swaziland will contribute towards the global report and be counted among the countries growing biotech crops and also add to the number of developing countries using this technology.
The minister was positive that the technology would be of great benefit to the local farmers, industry and the nation as a whole, adding that caution should be taken to ensure that the environment and human health was not harmed in the process.
Currently, only millers are allowed to bring GMO maize into the country. The maize goes straight into the miller and is not used for any other purpose. Also animal feed is brought into the country and most of these are imported from South Africa.
During a meeting to deliver a global status of commercialised biotech/GM crops at Mountain Inn on Wednesday, SEA Director Stephen Zuke said many people around the world were enjoying the benefits of technology, especially in medicine.
He noted that farmers were the primary beneficiaries of the technology, hence it was important that farmers are put at the forefront of the technology.
The director stated that in order to meet the challenges of the 21st century, where the population is growing and an increasing need for farmers to feed them, the country needed to adapt to this technology.
“Biotechnology offers the tools that farmers can use to address issues of food shortages. The world population is expected to double or even triple in the next 20 to 30 years and farmers need to rise to the challenge and produce more,” he said.