Genetically Modified Orphan Crops in Africa

Mohmmed Nashiru, a farmers’ leader in Ghana, who campaigned against the introduction of genetically modified or GM food in the country for twenty years recently switched sides. Now he wants GM food as soon as possible. Nashiru attributes his change of heart to Ghanaian scientists who have taken it upon themselves to change public perception about GM food crops. They regularly hold meetings with farmers to gather public support before the planned release of GM cowpea early this year. Cowpea—called "poor man’s meat"—is sometimes eaten three times a day.

GM cowpea resists pod borer that destroys up to 80% of cowpea crop in Ghana. GM cowpea is part of a new GM food promotion model focused on “orphan” crops such as cooking banana and cassava, which are grown and eaten by small holder farmers, and have less commercial value than big three—wheat, rice, and maize. Big philanthropies like the Gates and Rockefeller foundations fund African institutes to do this research using technology “donated” by Monsanto.

However, Ghana’s scientists continue to face opposition from anti-GM NGOs which recently dragged Ghana government to the Human Rights Court. Social scientists talk of disconnect between the GM crops research and farmers’ priorities.

What would the production and commercialization of GM orphan crops mean for food security in sub-Saharan Africa?