I don’t agree with James Munanura’s assertion about introducing Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) to end food insecurity in Rwanda. I deeply thank him for his comments. Asserting that GMOs are the solution to food insecurity in Rwanda, and indeed the region, joins the long line of African scientists advocating total dependence of Africa on multinationals for food and survival.
For starters, GMOs are the patented property of multinational companies seeking profits, not seeking to feed the world. If we can depend on food aid now when we still have a degree of independence, what will happen when we are totally dependent on these companies for our basic food needs?
One fact ignored by the food security debate is that agriculture and food security cannot be guaranteed in the absence of a minimum level of industrialisation. Industrialisation makes one great input to food security: it offers alternative off-the-farm income, thus minimising the fraction of food sold for cash. This is because the food security equation is analysed at three levels:
- eat all
- eat-some, sell-some
The middle level is the ideal and it is its ratios that matter: how much is sold and how much is left? The ratios will depend on whether there is an alternative income, thus minimising “sell-some”. This is where industrialisation makes an input.
When household heads are employed outside the farm, the “sell-some” fraction is low. Besides the fraction sold, the price per unit is another factor. And industrialisation comes in again. Local processing of agro-inputs means a higher income to farmers than when they are sold raw.
One village in China defeated poverty and famine when they went into manufacturing garment buttons from cow horns, leaving rice-growing to a few farmers, who produce enough since the unit price and market are high, thanks to the income from the button factory.
Absence of alternative off-the-farm income leads to the “sell-all” scenario, itself disastrous. One of the richest districts in Uganda had the highest number of stunted children. Explanation? Everything is for the market, including high protein foods like milk and eggs. Because parents have no alternative source, they have to sell food to pay university and school fees.
The solution lies in intensive, integrated, sustainable agriculture, supported by rural industrialisation. Organic agriculture will give us food and premium prices on world markets. The challenge is we are poor at marketing the value we have. If a kilo of organic carrots fetches 10 dollars, instead of 1 cent, it means we reduce the “sell-some” ratio, thus increase the “eat-some”, ratio, both in quantity and quality. Poor marketing equally manifests in our hatred for our own products.
The maximum shelf space occupation in supermarkets for local food products rarely exceeds 5%. Yet most of these imported foods can be locally processed, with the attendant gains raised above. We need total refocusing and prioritisation, not mere excitement with commercial inducements as is the GMO case.
Matsiko Kahunga Isingiro, Kigali
Reaction to the letter, “Introduce GMOs to boost food production”, (The New Times, August 9)