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Pathways to Productivity? Assessment of the GMO Debate in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda

Agricultural yields in sub-Saharan Africa are substantially lower than their potential productive capacities and the obstacles plaguing the region are significant

Strategies aimed at combatting these challenges and improving food security and agricultural productivity often emphasize genetically modified organisms (GMOs) as part of the solution.  However, there is still a great deal of uncertainty and disagreement about the roles that GM crops can or should play. 

The CSIS Global Food Security Program and Africa Program are conducting a project examining the debate on genetically modified (GM) food crops in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda.  Specifically, we will review the regulatory structures, the scientific debate, and the current state of opinion on GMOs in each of these countries.  The project will focus on these three countries because all three are in the process of conducting research and/or field trials on GM food crops and developing regulatory systems for biotechnology and GMO adoption.  The geographic proximity of the three countries also provides opportunities for synergy and potential partnerships under U.S.-supported projects, and could offer important lessons for regional cooperation within the East African Community.

Through the use of field studies and interviews, an online forum, and an expert roundtable, CSIS will develop a report identifying how the United States can support and enhance capacities for technology regulation, use, and adoption, should a country decide to move in that direction. The project will also identify key areas of opportunity for developing regulatory structures capable of adapting to demands within each country.  Furthermore, the project will maintain a focus on the perspective of smallholder farmers in rural areas. 

Our research will focus on three primary questions:

  1. Enhancing the debate and information flow will enhance each country’s capacity to make informed decisions about GMOs.  How can we link stakeholders engaged in the GMO debate? 
  2. Effective regulatory systems are important for the approval and use of agricultural technology.  As technologies become more sophisticated, so too must regulatory structures, risk assessment frameworks, and communication structures.  How can the United States support efforts to strengthen these systems?  How can regional institutions like the East African Community supplement these efforts?
  3. Agricultural infrastructure and technology in Africa is uneven and often underdeveloped.  For any type of technology to be adopted, there is significant work to be done on adaptation and infrastructure around research and development, seeds, fertilizers, and farming techniques.  What are some areas for focus that can serve the purpose of providing improved infrastructure for all types of agricultural technology, including GM technology?  What are areas of overlap, and what ideas should be promoted? 

To find out more about this project, check out our blog