Anti-GMO activists, mainly in Europe, have created barriers to development in the poorest countries on Earth and a U.S. nonprofit that promotes technological innovation has put a price tag on how much it costs Africa not to adopt GMOs.
Suppression of biotech cost African agricultural economies at least $2.5 billion from 2008 to 2013, according to a report by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF).
ITIF is a U.S. nonprofit think tank based in Washington, D.C. focusing on public policies that spur technology innovation.
European anti-GM forces have three main ways of impeding genetically modified organism use in Africa, according to ITIF.
They use nontariff trade barriers for GMO exports — the most important way.
European countries have also used informal pressures to lean on Africa to shun GMOs.
“Governments in Europe have used their overseas development aid to encourage African governments to draft and implement highly precautionary European-style regulatory systems for agricultural GMO,” according to Robert Paarlberg, a professor of political science at Wellesley College and an associate at Harvard University.
Paarlberg’s book, “Starved for Science: How Biotechnology Is Being Kept Out of Africa”(2008), argues that poor African farmers are denied access to productive technologies. You hear him speak on a Youtube video.
A third driver of reduced GMO use in Africa is political discord created by activist groups that continues to stymie African agricultural innovation efforts, according to ITIF. For example, Netherlands and New York-based Greenpeace International and Friends of the Earth International, also based in the Netherlands, campaigned heavily against agricultural GMOs in Africa.
It is difficult to estimate the full economic impact of not using GMOs on African agricultural productivity, but some estimates can be made, ITIF reported, according to a condensed version of a report published by the GeneticLiteracyProject.
In 2013, the average global adoption rates for biotech-improved seed were 79 percent for soybean, 70 percent for cotton, and 32 percent for maize.
To estimate the opportunity costs borne by countries that have not yet adopted biotech crops, ITIF calculated the gains they would have seen had they adopted biotech varieties starting in 2008 at rates comparable to those in adopting countries.
Next ITIF used the global average of a 22 percent yield increase for biotech crops, although this number represents a conservative estimate for developing countries. Discounting African nations that are already growing biotech crops (South Africa, Burkina Faso, Sudan), ITIF superimposed 2013’s global adoption rates onto other African countries’ production in soybean, cotton and maize, while holding prices constant.
African nations produced roughly $1.01 billion worth of cotton. If 70 percent were of biotech-improved stock, higher yields would increase harvest value by $156 million.
African nations produced roughly $482 million worth of soybeans. If 79 percent were of biotech-improved stock, the total value would increase by $84 million.
For maize, African nations produced roughly $10.6 billion worth of the crop. If 32 percent were of biotech-improved stock, the total value would increase by
These projections provide a conservative estimate based on the adoption of biotech- enhanced seeds, and leads to an overall increase in the total gross value added of maize, cotton, and soybeans planted in Africa by 8 percent more than 2013 levels, or an absolute amount of $984 million.
A healthier agricultural industry in these countries will provide a boost to the rest of the nation’s economy. If all other factors were constant, ITIF estimates that the continued suppression of biotech innovations in agriculture has cost African agricultural economies alone at least $2.5 billion from 2008-2013.