GMO, safety and the question of food security in Africa, by Professor MK Othman


How do we achieve zero hunger in Africa? This is a multimillion question that has a combination of multiple answers. Zero hunger is a situation when all households have unlimited access to qualitatively nutritious food, which can quantitatively meet their dietary needs at all times.

A house with zero hunger for a month is a food secured household for that month. So, zero hunger is synonymous with food security for a given time period.

Food security is a condition in which all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.

Then, how do we achieve food security in Africa with eccentric challenges like climate change, COVID-19 Pandemic, etc? This means that for Africa to achieve food security, all the people living in Africa must have access to affordable and qualitative food, which can meet the nutritious requirement at all times. Food security requirements are inclusive and encompassing of women, children and other vulnerable and disadvantaged groups.

With this robust definition of food security, it is not surprising that Africa with 54 independent countries and four dependent countries is considered as the most food insecure-continent. 43 of the 58 African countries are classified as low – income and food – deficient countries representing 50 per cent of such countries in the World.

In Africa, some people eat for mere survival as at when food is available, affordable and accessible. In most cases, when food is available, we hardly consider the dietary value of such food before consumption.

Quantity of food to feed several mouths is the main issue rather than the quality of the food. So, to achieve food security in Africa now and in the future, it is pertinent to consider the trend of the population in Africa.

Today, the African continent houses about 1.34 billion people, which is a distant second to Asia with 4.64 billion people out of the total world population of 7.8 billion people as at August 2020 according to

The African population is equivalent to 16.6 per cent of the total World population. By 2050, the World population is estimated to be around 9.8 billion people with the population of Africa as 2.5 billion people.

These figures will almost double the current population of the region. Most African countries are expected to almost double their population by the year 2050.

However, Nigeria is expected to almost triple its population, as the country is estimated to have 450 million people by 2050 from the current population estimate of 195 million people.

Nigeria will be the third most populous country after India and China. India is likely to be the most populous country with China holding the second position in 2050.

Reflecting back in the 1960s, the population in Africa was merely 285 million people, which quadrupled to become 1.34 billion people today.

Globally, the population growth rates are slowing down, however, the populations of some African countries particularly Sub-Saharan Africa are still expanding by about 3 per cent a year, enough to double the number of people in one generation as reported by FAO.

In contrast, food production in Africa continues to grow more slowly than the population compared to every other region of the world where the production grows higher than the population increase since the 1970s.

The foregoing analysis indicates the exponential population increase as a major factor that must be considered for the attainment of food security in any country.

African Population today and tomorrow must be provided with quantitative and qualitative food to reduce hunger and ultimately achieve food security. This concern of hunger in Africa is what impelled the Malabo Declaration.

In the 2014 Malabo Declaration, African leaders “reaffirmed the principles and values of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) and recommitted their countries to end hunger and halve poverty by 2025, boost intra-African trade, and enhance the resilience of livelihoods and production systems to climate change and other shocks”. What are the challenges responsible for the gloomy picture of the food security situation in Africa today?

African countries face many constraints militating against agricultural production, processing, handling and marketing. Some of these constraints on agricultural and rural development in Africa can be linked to misguided policies, weak institutions and a lack of well-trained human resources.

Other constraints against agricultural productivity emanate from insecurity and political conflicts, which sometimes resort into civil unrest.

However, even under normal circumstances, agricultural productivity in Africa is low compared to other regions. This brings the question of the need to have edge-cutting technology, which can revolutionize agriculture at the shortest possible time. Can that be genetically modified technology (GMT)? Can GMO crops be a pathway for ending hunger and achievement of food security in Africa?

Genetic modified (GM) technology is a technique, which allows the transfer of selected genes for specific traits between species using laboratory processes. GMT is a recent breakthrough in biotechnology, a strategy, which combats debilitating and rare diseases, reduce environmental footprint, feed the hungry, use less and cleaner energy, and have safer, cleaner and more efficient industrial manufacturing processes.

The biotechnology existed many centuries ago and widened its scope to include innovation in medicine; extending to its latest globally controversial product: genetically modified organisms, GMOs, sometimes also called transgenic organisms. GMO is a highly controversial subject dividing the world into two; those against it and those for it. Can Africa achieve food security without the use of GMO? How safe are GMO crops to human health?

(To be continued next week).

Professor Othman is the Executive Director of National Agricultural Extension and Research Liaison Services (NAERLS), ABU Zaria.


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