Feeding a growing population using the traditional farming method is not guaranteed, and this situation necessitates that agriculture biotechnology comes into play to meet the increasing food needs, the Rwanda Agriculture Board’s Director General has said. Patrick Karangwa said that this is even more of the case for countries like Rwanda, whose population continues to increase, yet have limited land for agriculture. Karangwa was speaking on Friday, October 14, 2022 during the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology in Africa (OFAB) Rwanda Chapter’s first edition of media awards. The awards are aimed at recognising exemplary journalism that exhibits best practices in credible science reporting that is crucial to better public understanding and acceptance of sciences, technologies and innovations that are needed to transform African agriculture for food security, sustainable development and poverty eradication. Agriculture biotechnology referred to here, consists of the production of genetically modified (GM) crops which are obtained through inserting or changing specific genes, using genetic engineering methods (in a laboratory setting), in order to confer beneficial traits. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), those genes confer beneficial traits such as pest resistance [hence no need for pesticide use for the farmer, which implies reduced food production costs], ability to grow in extreme and unfavourable conditions [such as having the ability to withstand drought] and increased nutrient levels among others. Data from the National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda (NISR) indicates that Rwanda’s population is projected to nearly double to 22 million by 2050, from 12 million in 2020. “Sub-Saharan Africa, and our country here, we have to feed people with nutritious and safe food. When you look at, for instance, our country [Rwanda], our population growth is 2.5 per cent every year. If we say we have 12 million population now, there are over 300,000 more people per year,” he said. “We have to produce more [food]. Some studies for Rwanda have found that by 2050, Rwanda will have to increase the current [crop] yields by 15 times to be able to feed people,” he said, pointing out that science and technology is mandatory to reach there. Indeed, he said that the growing population has stimulated interest to transform the conventional [traditional] seeds so as to make them more performing with a view to meet their food needs. “We cannot keep feeding the people conventionally,” he said, citing the likes of organic farming without the use of fertilisers or pesticides or hybrid seeds. ‘GMO foods are safe’ Karangwa said that there is a lot of misinformation going on about GMO foods, which should be tackled with facts and building awareness about them. “We must have a completely new mindset that embraces innovation and technology, and cast out the fears that are not based on true knowledge. This is the same with biotechnology. There are people who go around saying biotechnology is bad for you, to your health,” he said. “And when you look at those parts of the world, they have been consuming biotechnology products for decades. Are we healthier than them? The United States (of America) have been consuming GMO-based products for 40 years now; I don’t think we are healthier than the United States citizens. Still, he disclosed that some people, even in Rwanda, might have been consuming GMO-based products for so many years unknowingly. “For instance, look at the cooking oil that we use; it is just extracted from grains like soybeans, maize and so forth. And if you look at [some] places where this cooking oil is being imported from, you see that they are crushing the GMO grains to produce the cooking oil,” he said. Right now, he said that Rwanda has confined field trials of a genetically modified cassava variety in Rubona, which are resistant to cassava brown streak disease -- a viral disease that attacks this crop and causes major economic losses to farmers and negatively affects food security. According to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), in 2019, the 24th year of commercialisation of biotech crops (GM crops), over 190 million hectares of biotech crops were planted by up to 17 million farmers in 29 countries across the world. It indicated that GM crop farmers were reaping higher yield with reduced use of pesticides and better management of weeds among other benefits. The African Union’s seed sector in Africa status report of 2021 showed that South Africa is by far the most advanced country in the continent in terms of commercialisation of GM crops (which include Bt/drought-tolerant maize). The World Health Organisation (WHO) indicated that GM foods currently available on the international market have passed safety assessments and are not likely to present risks for human health.