GM maize: less work for her, and more maize for him

GM maize: less work for her, and more maize for him

One of the research papers I read this weekend was by agriculture economists, Marnus Gouse, Debdatta Sengupta, Patricia Zambrano, and José Falck Zepeda published in World Development, a monthly peer-reviewed academic journal, in July 2016. It assesses whether men and women farmers derive different benefits from using genetically modified (GM) maize in South Africa.

While GM crops were introduced in 1996 in the United States, with several countries following through in the years after, in South Africa, the first commercial GM maize was planted in 200/01. Since then, the maize area plantings in the country is over 85%.

There have been several writings about the contributions of GM maize in improving yields and also other non-yields benefits, as well as cost-savings from herbicides and pesticides which I highlighted in a Business Day today (see here). But there hasn’t been much research on the gender question that Gouse et al. (2016) focuses on. The study draws from data collected from smallholder farmers in the KwaZulu Natal province of South Africa. It trenches over a period of eight seasons.

In brief, the study found that men preferred GM maize because of yield benefit (higher yields). Meanwhile, women farmers had a different motivation. They planted GM maize because of the quality and taste of maize (this surprised me), as well as because of it being labour-saving (women farmers save in weeding time).

Overall, what this research reveals is that men and women farmers in South Africa derive differentiated benefits from the cultivation of GM maize, at least from a perception point of view. This can be summed up by; growing GM maize means less work for her and more maize for him.

Download Gouse et al. (2016) paper here.

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Zimbabwe lifts a ban on GM maize imports

Zimbabwe lifts a ban on GM maize imports

Zimbabwe has always maintained a vague policy view on genetically modified crops (GM). In seasons of abundance, the country would place a ban on importation of GM crops, which would mean that South Africa, the only GM crop producer in Africa where roughly 80% of the maize is GM, wouldn’t be in a position to export maize to Zimbabwe.

In times of scarcity, however, one would see maize leaving South African silos into Zimbabwe without a clear view on the GM policy (it is possible that some exports were non-GM maize). The general view was that when the maize lands in Zimbabwe, it would be carefully quarantined and transported straight to the millers to be processed into maize meal

But the most notable shift from this vague policy happened recently. Bloomberg, a news organization, reports that;

Zimbabwe has quietly lifted a ban on imports of genetically modified corn for the first time in 12 years as the southern African nation begins to take action to avert what could be its worst famine.”

This will help ease import processes of maize from South Africa, and other major maize producers, into Zimbabwe. As I’ve recently noted, in the week of January 24, 2020, South Africa had thus far exported 79 283 tonnes of maize to Zimbabwe within the 2019/20 marketing year.

The need for maize imports in Zimbabwe was caused by a poor domestic harvest, which fell by 53% year-on-year in 2018/19 production season to 800 000 tonnes, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Zimbabwe consumes about 1.8 – 2.0 million tonnes of maize a year, so this fall in production meant that the country would need to import at least a million tonnes of maize to cover the shortfall.

The import activity didn’t accelerate until earlier this year, at least from a South African market. There were small imports from Tanzania last year but that didn’t make a dent as witnessed from incidences of food shortages in the country. A more detailed view of this matter is here.

Additional reading:

Also, I’ve discussed the benefits of growing GM crops here. This is something that Zimbabwean authorities should think about if they are to transform the country’s agricultural sector in the coming years. The Economist magazine also recently ran a detailed piece on this matter here.

This chart of maize yields also paints a much clearer picture of the yield benefits of GM crops. Here is South Africa compared to the Sub-Saharan region.

Exhibit 1: The South African maize yields have largely benefited from the use of GM seeds.
Source: BMI


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