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Zim embraces genetically modified crops amid food security concerns

By Takudzwa Chikakayi

The National Biotechnology Authority’s Technical Chairman, Zelph Dhlamini, has revealed that the Zimbabwean government is set to approve the use of genetically modified (GM) crops in a bid to improve food security during a virtual discussion.

Dhlamini highlighted the critical need to adapt and be innovative lest the evolution of pests and pathogens leave us food insecure.

Dhlamini said, “the decision to adopt genetically modified crops has been met with both support and resistance.

 “Genetically modified crops are coming to Zimbabwe, unfortunately these were developed abroad so we need to develop our own to solve local challenges.”

During plenary, debates were raised over GMOs potential health risks for food security.

However, Zelph argued that GMOs are necessary to increase yields, noting that 99% of Zimbabwean maize is already being produced using hybrid seeds.

“Genetically modified crops are not monsters as portrayed, we have been importing GMO maize before the drought was declared a regional disaster. Why not use technology to produce seeds tailor made for the conditions in Zimbabwe?”

“The benefits will outweigh cons and if our government departments are involved in using biotechnology, the cost of the seed will be manageable and we produce a diverse breed that is resilient to our current environmental challenges,” he added.

He acknowledged the need to grant consumer sovereignty.

“Upon the full implementation of this idea, I strongly suggest the labelling of the difference between pure indigenous grains and seeds, and those merged and modified to allow consumers to make a choice.”

He said, “supporting agro-ecology empowers local farmers and ensures food production for generations to come.

“It’s sad to see our cattle farmers destocking heavily due to the environmental climate change, we need to relook our natural regions and revise their carrying capacities, and invest into breeds that forage for themselves, cattle that can browse if there is no grass.”

Dhlamini underscored on the importance of simultaneously employing reactionary measures in a bid to survive drought periods.

For farmers to survive drought periods it may be worthy to consider the following:

“Growing varieties that have shorter cycles thus requiring less water than the longer season varieties, for example 45 days versus 90 days.

“Efficient water management through water saving systems like drip irrigation and adjusting irrigation times.

“Considering resilient varieties with crop insurance that will still produce in the high temperatures that most crops would struggle to produce.

“Networking with fellow farmers on platforms, sharing information and ideas, like on platforms like these.”

Climate change is real and at times inevitable, but what we can do is try to see how we can feed ourselves as a nation. Farmers have to continuously improve the crop varieties to suit the ever changing environment so that populations are food and nutrition secure, he added.

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