Nelly Bassily | April 27, 2009
Kobus van Coller’s maize looked lush and healthy on the outside. The stalks grew tall and the cobs seemed full. But when he opened the cob leaves he was in for a surprise – there was no corn inside.
Mr. van Coller wasn’t alone in his discovery. Some 280 South African farmers had the same problem. Their maize produced few if any kernels of corn. According to some, such crop failures should be expected. That’s because they were all grown with genetically modified, or GM, seeds.
Mariam Mayet is the director of the African Centre for Biosafety. Her group has been raising concerns about genetically modified crops for several years. Ms. Mayet declares the recent crop failures the most significant development in the debate over GM food. She says biotechnology has failed.
The seeds in question were developed by biotech giant Monsanto. They were genetically altered to resist weed killers and produce high yields.
Ms. Mayet is calling for the South African government to ban all GM foods and investigate the crop failures.
Monsanto maintains that the maize seeds failed due to a simple labratory error. In a statement, Monsanto said the seeds were underfertilized and produced less pollen than expected.
More than 80,000 hectares of maize were affected. Monsanto is compensating farmers who lost crops.
Despite the recent problems, farmers told reporters that they will continue to grow GM seeds. Nico Hawkins is spokesperson for the local farmers’ cooperative, Grains-SA. His cooperative is assessing maize losses. Mr. Hawkins says they still support any technology that boosts maize production.
South Africa is one of a handful of countries that allows GM crops. Some other African countries are considering the technology. Kenya recently began trials of a maize variety genetically altered to resist stem borers.