Report Chapter - Brookings Institution

Leap-frogging in African Agriculture: The Case of Genetically Modified Crops

| January 2014

THE PRIORITY

Agricultural transformation is high on the agenda for African countries. In fact, agriculture is expected to be a major priority for the July 2014 summit of the African Union. This interest is building on a mood of economic optimism with the International Monetary Fund estimating that Africa's growth rate will rise to 5.4 percent in 2013 and 5.7 percent in 2014, whereas the global growth rate is expected to average only 3.3 percent in 2013 (IMF 2013).

African policymakers are starting to focus on agricultural innovation as a way to sustain this growth and help spread prosperity. On average, agriculture accounts for 30–40 percent of sub-Saharan Africa's overall GDP and employs 64 percent of the workforce (Juma 2011). The examples of leap-frogging through mobile technology provide African countries with inspirational models for leveraging agricultural biotechnology.

One misconception is that biotechnology is simply about the importation of genetically modified foods; rather, it is about "building up the requisite capacity to diversify the technological options needed for long-term agricultural adaptation," (Juma 2012b). Biotechnology on its own will have little impact unless it is viewed in the context of system-wide improvements in agriculture. Now is the time for African governments to capitalize on the renewed interest in agriculture and invest in infrastructure, higher technical training and creation of larger markets.

A good place to start is with crops such as insect-resistant transgenic cotton as part of a larger goal to turn African agriculture into a knowledge-based entrepreneurial activity. The crop carries genes from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) that enables it to resist pests, requiring fewer or no insecticides.

So far only four African countries—Burkina Faso, Egypt, South Africa and Sudan—grow transgenic crops out of a total of 29 worldwide. In 2014, it is expected that more African countries will announce plans to grow transgenic crops, especially Bt cotton. Countries such as Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and Uganda have ongoing biotechnology research and development programs (Adenle, Morris and Parayil 2013). They view entry into biotechnology as a way to expand their technological options for long-term agricultural transformation....

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For Academic Citation: Juma, Calestous and Katherine Gordon. “Leap-frogging in African Agriculture: The Case of Genetically Modified Crops.” In Foresight Africa: Top Priorities for the Continent in 2014, Brookings Institution, January 2014.

The Authors

Calestous Juma