Biotechnology and the Future of Africa’s Agriculture

25 Pages Posted: 2 Jul 2010

Date Written: June 30, 2010


Even after more than 15 years of the emergence of modern biotechnology in agriculture, much of Africa remains reluctant if not hostile to it. Some view modern biotechnology as the new messiah to lift Africa from starvation and food insecurity while others hold the contrary view and advise Africa to stay away from the technology for reasons ranging from health and environmental concerns to economic considerations. They fear that the unfolding ‘gene revolution’ is destined to fail on its promises because of the existing complex economic, social, and political circumstances in Africa as was the case in the green revolution.

Africa continues to be gripped in the polarized debate so much so that it is unable to make informed decision on a technology with promises that could potentially address some of the problems of agriculture in the continent.

This paper explores issues related to modern biotechnology in general and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in particular in the context of Africa. To that end, it begins by briefly exploring the debate on modern biotechnology and relating it to the context of Africa. It then presents the state of modern biotechnology in Africa and the different positions of African countries, and it subsequently examines the different concerns on GMOs in the context of Africa.

The paper makes the conclusion that while technology alone may not necessarily resolve all the ills of Africa’s agriculture, modern biotechnology should certainly be attractive to Africa- a continent known for a long history of poverty, chronic food insecurity and malnutrition. Modern biotechnology may assist in improving yields and quality of crops- plants could be more resistant to diseases, pests, drought or any other strenuous environmental conditions or improved strong properties or quality characteristics which are all the very evils of Africa’s agriculture. The existence of divergent views on modern biotechnology should not prevent Africa from making informed decision and harnessing the benefits while at the same time ensuring its safety in terms of health and the environment as well as its relevance to the needs and priorities of the continent.

Presented at the SIEL 2010 Conference in Barcelona.

Keywords: Biotechnology, Agriculture, Africa, Food insecurity, Starvation, Genetically modified organisms, GMOs

JEL Classification: Q17, Q18, Q13

Suggested Citation

Birhanu, Fikremarkos Merso, Biotechnology and the Future of Africa’s Agriculture (June 30, 2010). Society of International Economic Law (SIEL), Second Biennial Global Conference, University of Barcelona, July 8-10, 2010, Available at SSRN: or

Fikremarkos Merso Birhanu (Contact Author)

Addis Ababa University ( email )

King George VI St
Addis Ababa, 1000

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