File photo: Simphiwe Mbokazi
Johannesburg - An anti-GMO lobby group has accused multinational seed company Monsanto of “colonising” South Africa’s food system with its new “bogus” drought-tolerant maize seed that it wants to make commercially available to the country’s farmers.

The firm says its application for Drought trait is designed to help the maize plant use less water in a drought, “creating the opportunity to conserve soil moisture and help minimise yield loss under drought conditions”.

But a petition by the African Centre for Biodiversity (ACB), disputes this, challenging the claims of drought tolerance as a “Trojan horse and yet another risky and novel gene introduced into our staple food

“We all love mealies and the many other food products we get from maize seeds but wherever Monsanto does business, communities health and the environment are at risk.

“To make even more money, they’re trying to push their so-called drought-tolerant maize seed on to our farmers.

“Monsanto is using the drought and our rising food prices as a means of inserting its bogus drought-tolerant technology and maize into the South African food systems.”

Magda du Toit, a spokesperson for Monsanto, says the firm is committed to bringing a broad range of solutions to help farmers.

“The future and well-being of millions of people lies in the hands of farmers - large commercial farmers, as well as small-holder farmers.

“The DroughtGard® trait facilitates improved water use efficiency. Drought or water stress is one of the major factors that can impact on yields in South Africa. The drought trait alone cannot guarantee success, but farmers can use it as another tool in their systems-based approach to give their maize crop the best chance to survive and thrive in climates prone to drought.

The ACB says it is “deeply troubled by the continuous introduction of risky GMOs into our food and farming systems”, which since their introduction into South Africa’s food system in 1998 - there are around 2.3 million hectares of GMO crops including maize, soya and cotton planted - has “done nothing to address our nation’s hunger problems”.

“Instead, we are left with polluted soil and water and loss of our superior local farmer-bred varieties of maize.”

The ACB wants South Africa to ban the use of glyphosate, which Monsanto sells with this product to farmers. The World Health Organisation’s International Association for Research into Cancer categorised glyphosate as a class 2A carcinogen in May 2015.

Land belonging to smallholder farmers has been contaminated, claims the ACB, which says more GMOs will further erode farmers’ seed systems.

Mariam Mayet, who heads the ACB, says it is trying to interrogate Monsanto’s claims for DroughtGard®.

“We’ve asked the government to provide us with the field trial data so we can see the extent to which these drought tolerant varieties are performing well under water stress conditions.

“All of this is confidential business information so they won’t share it with us. But it’s in the public interest for us to verify these claims,” she says.

“We call on our government to reject Monsanto’s application and begin a real dialogue with South Africans to transition out of industrial and GM-based agriculture systems and work towards real climate-resilient solutions that are ecologically sustainable, socially just and takes care of the nutritional needs of all South Africans.”

* Public comments can be e-mailed to GMOApp.gov.za by April 5.

Saturday Star