Study reveals lives are at stake when it comes to delays in approving biotech crops

August 14, 2017

Uncertainty and confusion on genetic engineering of main food crops in Africa has frequently delayed the acceptance and application of these crops by smallholder farmers. Scientists, policy makers, and other stakeholders have raised concerns that the approval process for new crops causes delays that are often scientifically unjustified. In a new study published last month in PLOS ONE, researchers assert that these delays are not only causing costs via foregone economic benefits, but also costing lives, via foregone calorie supplies for malnourished children.

The team of researchers, which included Agricultural & Resource Economics Professor David Zilberman, found that the costs of a one year delay in approving the pod-borer resistant cow-pea in Nigeria will cost the country $33-46 million and could take 100 to 3000 lives. They also reported on lives that could have been saved with genetically engineered corn in Kenya and with the black sigatoka resistant banana in Uganda.

The calculation model the authors used includes economic benefits for producers and consumers as well as the benefits of reduced malnutrition among subsistence farm-households often not explicitly considered in previous studies.

“Reducing the approval time of genetically modified crops results in generating economic gains, potentially contributing to reducing malnutrition and saving lives, and can be an inexpensive strategy for reaching the UN Sustainable Development Goal of eradicating malnutrition by 2030," said Justus Wesseler, a professor of Agricultural Economics and Rural Policy at Wageningen University and lead author of the study. “But this might also be important for Europe as it reduces migration.”

Read more on the Wageningen University website, or read the research at PLOS ONE.