Research is underway to develop biotech versions of traditional African crops even as major crops such as corn are being adopted on the continent, according to the executive director of AfricaBio, a stakeholders association.
Nutrient enhancement and desirable traits such as drought resistance are being developed, along with resistance to insect pests and weed killers, Dr. Nompumelelo Obokoh told a session at the BIO International Convention here Monday.
“Improvement projects are underway in at least seven countries,” Dr. Obokoh said. Crops under development include cassava, sweet potato, bananas, cowpeas, rice and sorghum, she said.
Biotech crops familiar in the west, such as corn, have already been deployed in some countries in Africa, she said. Insect-resistant corn makes up 72 percent of the corn crop on commercial farms in South Africa and is growing in popularity among smallholders as well, she said.
“Cereal yields in Arica are less than half the yield in the developed world,” Dr. Obokoh said. “Biotech will deliver more productivity on less land with less use of resources.” Biotech is also helping smallholders move from a subsistence model of farming, in which they barely eke out a living, to a business model, in which they have surplus product to sell in the market, she said.