A study conducted by IITA and the Africa College-University of Leeds in Tanzania reveals that local farmers are more interested on the productivity potential of genetically-modified (GM) crops than they are worried about the possible risks associated with their use. The study, completed in late June, was carried out in consultation with the Mikocheni Agricultural Research Institute and the Tanzanian Commission for Science and Technology. It covered three districts in Tanzania.
The research, which assessed the understanding and attitudes of local farmers toward GM crops using disease-resistant cassava as example, also revealed that the level of awareness and basic understanding of GM crops by small-scale farmers is very low. Similarly, it was found that related knowledge level of local agricultural extension officers and district staff â€“â€“ primary sources of information of the farmers â€“â€“ was also inadequate.
Most of the farmer-respondents never heard of GM crops before. Some wondered whether they are new types of crops similar to hybrids, while others speculated on their look, taste and growth behaviour. The study identified the lack of related terminology in Swahili as a barrier to raising awareness on GM crops in Tanzania, and recommended that authorities first develop related terms in the local language before launching awareness campaigns in the country.
Dr Caroline Herron, IITA Virologist involved in the study, said that â€œit is important for the scientific community to raise the awareness level of farmers by providing accurate and objective information so they can make informed and autonomous decisions on the potential of GM crops in their agricultural practice.â€â€
â€œâ€œThe tendency of farmers to focus on short term gains in productivity should not prevent the potential middle and long term risks being fully explained to them to allow them to make clear judgment,â€ she added.
Apart from yield, other important qualities enumerated by the farmers include growth patterns, pest and disease resistance, labor requirements and taste. Asked whether they would eat GM crops, a respondent said (in Bagamoyo), â€œâ€¦â€¦because of the way these crops are made, I would be worried about eating them unless they (scientists) ate with me. This would assure me that they are safe.â€
The farmers indicated that they would only participate in the farm trials of GM crops if the necessary safety regulations were in place. The study recommended that any field testing of GM crops should be conducted in close consultation with relevant government bodies backed by biosafety legislation.
Tanzaniaâ€™s biosafety framework has recently been approved by the countryâ€™s cabinet after a lengthy consultation process. The country is also a signatory to the CARTAGENA protocol which outlines the minimum standard of biosafety regulations that must be adopted by all signatories.