Africa’s farmers must do better. The population of our continent continues to grow, but our ability to produce food remains stuck in the past.
Experts say that global food production has to double by 2050 to meet demand, yet here in Africa, the average yield of grain crops hasn’t increased since the 1960s.
There is no simple solution to Africa’s problems, and the root causes involve everything from political instability to unrelenting poverty. These challenges won’t vanish soon. Yet a few simple steps would make them appear less daunting. The nations of Africa should embrace agricultural biotechnology and also make sure farmers have ready access to fertilizer. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Genetically modified crops will guard against one of the most significant threats to farming in Africa: crop failure. Pest outbreaks can turn an excellent harvest into a rotten one almost overnight. Biotechnology offers seeds that will grow into healthy plants that naturally fight off insect predators. These tools also can help farmers survive severe weather, by making crops more resistant to heat, frost, and droughts.
The genetic modification of fruits and vegetables can prevent spoilage on the way to market. Success in this area could reduce waste and expand trade opportunities. Farmers around the world rely on exports, and there’s no reason why Africa can’t improve its export opportunities through better science.
Biotechnology affords environmental benefits as well. Because GM crops boost yield, we’ll produce more food from less land. Farmers will preserve African wilderness, rather than turn forests and wetlands into acreage for crops.
We can even put damaged land back into circulation. Unsustainable irrigation practices have injected too much salinity into much of the African soil. Biotechnology holds the key to growing salt-resistant crops. Advances on this front won’t come soon, but they will be essential for my continent’s long-term food security.