The United States and Botswana governments have partnered through the Ministry of Agriculture (Agricultural Research Department) in an endeavor to educate farmers in Botswana on the advantages of Biotechnology or Genetically Modified (GMO) crop production through outreach programmes.
These programmes are expected to help provide objective information on biotechnology and related biosafety issues.
Biotechnology or genetically modified (GMO’s) crops are produced from organisms that have had specific changes introduced into their DNA using the scientific methods of genetic engineering.
The genetically engineered plants are produced in a laboratory by changing their genetic makeup and further tested to produce desired qualities or results.
Briefing the media on Thursday last week in Francistown, Professor Peter Davies, a renowned international plant physiology and agronomy expert from the University of Cornell in the United States of America (USA) who has been engaged by the US embassy, said the biotech method of crop production has proven to be very viable in the USA and other countries around the world.
“This method of crop production has been used in the United States of America for 18 years and it has proved to be very viable as it produces good results. There are also other countries around the world that are already using this scientific method in improving their crop production,” he said.
Outlining the advantages of Biotech crops, he said that these scientific modified crops are drought resistant, are resistant against pests and are safe for consumption for both humans and animals.
He also said that Biotechnology crops have few toxins because pesticides are not used on them to fight pests.
“Because they are resistant to pests, farmers do not have to apply pesticides on them. They are less expensive for farmers to maintain and further they do not have many toxins due to the fact that insecticides are not used on them. The main advantage is that farmers would yield higher results at less costs,” he said.
Professor Davies has lectured extensively across the world in countries such as Belgium, Portugal, Spain, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine, Philippines and China. He has published over 100 papers and several books.
For his part, the Principal Research Officer at the Ministry of Agriculture (Agricultural Research) Dr Derrick George said that they are holding outreach programmes around the country in an endeavor to enlighten the farmers and Batswana in general about these Biotechnology crops.
He said that from their survey, it has emerged that most farmers in Botswana do not have knowledge of these method of crop production.
“We have conducted a research on biotechnology and we have earlier on travelled around the country in a bid to educate farmers on this initiative. It has emerged that most farmers in the country are still not aware of this method hence our continued efforts with outreach programmes,” he said.
He however said that during their outreach programmes around the country, some farmers have shown interest in these method.
He added that Biotech crops are grown in 27 countries around in the world and in Africa countries such as South Africa, Sudan and Egypt are already using the method.
He said that currently the biotech crops that are currently in the market are, Maize, Soya Beans, Cotton and Canola.
Dr George further said that these scientific method would be beneficial to Botswana more so that the country is faced with challenges of pests, unreliable rainfalls and poor soils.
“We also believe that the biotech crops would help us as Botswana especially that we are currently faced with challenges posed by the climate change. This scientific method can help uplift the lives of Batswana,” he said in addition.
He however said that in Botswana there is still no constitution governing the biotech crops or genetically modified food, but added that they are still consulting with Batswana across the country with the hope that parliament will soon come up with an Act governing this method.