How GM Crops can resolve the food shortages

By Annonciata Byukusenge

World hunger and food insecurity is a recurring problem in most parts of the developing world. Among the many potential biotechnologies that are available, and the different ways in which they can be applied, genetic modification (GM) of crops demands particular attention.

According to the United Nations, GM crops will hopefully produce more yield on less land. This may increase the overall productivity and may offer developing countries a means to sustain themselves and reduce worldwide hunger. Ninety per cent of the world’s 13.3 million “biotech crop farmers” are from developing countries. India, with 7.6 million hectares, is the fourth among the 14 “mega-biotech crop” countries. For instance, five million farmers in India are engaged in planting 7.6 million hectares of Bt or Bacillus thuringiensis, cotton, which protects itself from insects without requiring external pesticide. The shift to Bt cotton has been possible because of the 31 per cent increase in its yield, 39 per cent decrease in insecticide use, and higher profits equivalent to $250 per hectare.

Combating Hunger and Malnutrition

Malnutrition is the related term in medicine for hunger. The most recent estimate of the Food and Agriculture Organization says that 854 million people worldwide are undernourished. This is 12.6 per cent of 6.6 billion people in the world. Many of the 854 million that are undernourished, children being the most visible victims, live in developing countries. Undernutrition magnifies the impact of every disease, including measles and malaria.


One example tells us how biotechnology can contribute to combating global hunger and malnutrition.

Golden Rice

Approximately 140 million children in low-income groups in 118 countries, especially in Africa and South-East Asia, are deficient in Vitamin A. This situation has compounded into a public health challenge. The World Health Organization reports that an estimated 250,000 to 500,000 Vitamin A-deficient children become blind every year, half of them dying within 12 months of losing their sight. Golden Rice, created by researchers in Germany and Switzerland, contains three new genes — two from the daffodil and one from a bacterium — that helps it to produce provitamin A. This rice is available as a possible option for mass distribution, in part due to the waiving of patent rights by biotechnology companies. This is just one among the hundreds of new biotech products, which point to the contributions of biotechnology to society.

Why Do Farmers Use GMOs?

More than 18 million farmers around the world, the majority in developing countries, choose to plant genetically modified seeds due to their advantages, which can include reducing the impact of agriculture on their environment, reducing costs via more targeted pesticide use and reducing yield loss or crop damage from weeds, diseases and insects, as well as from extreme weather conditions such as drought.

GMOs help farmers reduce agriculture’s impact on the environment and protect the land for future generations.  Over the last 20 years, GMOs have helped to reduce pesticide applications by 8.1 percent and increase crop yields by 22 percent.  By planting GMOs, in 2015 farmers were able to preserve 48 million acres that would have been needed to produce the same amount of crops without GMOs – 18.3 million acres of corn, 20.8 million acres of soybeans, 7.4 million acres of cotton and 1.7 million acres of canola.

Rwanda context

Apart of Rwanda’s regulation of GMOs coincides with the Agriculture Board (RAB) conducting confined field trials for a GMO cassava variety resistant to cassava brown streak virus disease (CBSD), which threatens the staple food crop’s production and farmers’ income, the rice farmers also say that they need study like made to cassava in order to cope with food shortage and malnutrition in their families.

Mukarugwiza Bernadette, a dedicated rice and vegetable farmer working in the Kumusizi swamp, located in Rukira Cell, Huye District. Mukarugwiza is a member of the Cooperative of farmers, locally known as “Koperative Jyambere Muhinzi wa Huye” (KOJYAMUHU), which focuses on the development of Huye farmers where women make up to 70 per cent of members.

Women work alongside men, actively participating in the cooperative’s endeavors. Within the swamp, one side is dedicated to rice farming, while the other side is allocated for vegetable cultivation. However, the quantity of produce is greatly influenced by seasonal variations resulting from the impact of climate change and they need GM crop resist to the impact of climate change.

“Farmers, we have a challenge that the rice seeds we plant do not produce enough even though we plant on a large area. We need support from government that we can get the GM Crops seed of rice in order to get enough production for coping with food shortage and malnutrition. We hope that we will be satisfied in food, because now the almost of our product send to the factory and we go to the market to shop rice for food.”

Bernadette highlights their efforts to reduce reliance on modern fertilizers by utilizing traditional alternatives. They primarily apply traditional fertilizers on the vegetable side of the swamp, as the rice side benefits from an ample water supply. However, due to water scarcity, they face challenges in achieving sufficient crop yields from the vegetable section. Currently in the planting season, they are focusing on vegetable cultivation following the previous season’s maize crop, but those seeds are not GM crops.

Kamaliza Pauline, a resident at Gashikiri village in Huye District, said she fully embraced the training she received from the CorpsAfrica volunteers, and the project significantly transformed her life about agriculture. Her kitchen garden now thrives with a vibrant array of vegetables, including beets, carrots, leafy greens, indigenous vegetables, and eggplants. Even those vegetable look well, she can’t get enough product.

“Previously, I cultivated my vegetables on the traditional garden “Imirambararo” or a basket. However, after learning about this new way of gardening featuring stairs, I tried it at my home and the outcomes have been incredible that I don’t need to buy vegetables from the market anymore. Just for eat not for income. When I will gain GM Crops, I hope to increase my income through vegetable agriculture.” says Kamaliza.

How those women can be aware and to find seeds of GM Crops (rice)

According to Pacifique Nshimiyimana from Alliance for Science Rwanda, said that they are still advocate about GM Crops and they are ready to provide to them and it is profit in order to gain time they spend in farms.

“GMO seeds will present opportunities to women as one of the vulnerable groups of farmers who require technologies that reduce drudgery work. Example is how women will profit from less hours spraying insecticides which had a big health issue in their lives. Once the law is enacted, better seeds distribution schemes will follow as we have seen on hybrid seeds.” Said Nshimiyimana.

What is Rwanda Government says about using GM Crops?

On 1st August 2023, the Lower Chamber of Parliament approved a draft law governing biosafety. The Minister of Environment, Jeanne d’Arc Mujawamariya, said that the government supports genetically modified organisms (GMOs) that can bring tangible benefits to the nation. However, she emphasized the importance of being adequately prepared to address any potential adverse consequences of biotechnology.

GMOs encompass genetically engineered crops and other living organisms, including livestock animals. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), GMO crops are those that have genes inserted from the same or unrelated organisms through genetic engineering methods.

The Minister clarified that Rwanda would permit the use of GMOs if they could directly benefit Rwandans without causing any harmful effects. For example, if research demonstrates that modifying a cassava variety to remove bitterness does not pose health risks but increases yields, the government would support such initiatives.

What is scientists say about adopting GM Crops?

Dr Athanase Nduwumuremyi, an agricultural scientist from Rwanda Agriculture and Animal Resources Development Board (RAB), five crops namely Cassava, Irish Potatoes, Maize, Banana and fruits, in Rwanda are facing the unusual attack of diseases and pests and therefore Genetically Modified seeds are needed for sustainable response. “These major diseases, if not dealt with, could trigger food insecurity,” he said.

Cassava crops are attacked by two major destructive diseases Cassava Brown streak disease known as Kabore and Cassava Mosaic Disease (CMD) known as Ububembe which threaten cassava production in the country.

For instance, National cassava production dropped from 3.3 million tonnes to 656,924 tonnes in 2013 and 900, 000 tonnes in 2014 due to Kabore disease.

Maize crops are attacked by armyworms locally known as Nkongwa and other pests.

Fall armyworm is one of the most damaging invasive species to have emerged in Africa in recent years, resulting in production losses and disease control costs of about US$65.6 billion a year, according to a study by Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International (CABI).

According to African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), over seven countries in Africa currently grow GM crops apart from those in commercialization.

Through the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology in Africa (OFAB) Project, the organization facilitates constructive conversations among key stakeholders and decision-makers on agricultural biotechnology in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Nigeria, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Malawi and Rwanda.

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