Status of Crop Biotechnology in Africa


Introduction Agriculture contributes over 25% of GDP and employs above 70% of the labor force in most African countries’ economies (UNECA, 2009). Agricultural productivity is constrained by a many factors including abiotic and biotic stresses. The challenge is to develop technologies that can overcome these limiting factors, and can be utilized by small-scale farmers who use minimal external inputs. Such technologies can include use of biotechnology products.

In Africa, biotechnology tools used in agriculture include tissue culture, molecular characterization, marker assisted selection, molecular diagnostics and genetic modification (GM). Currently tissue culture is applied in many countries for rapid multiplication of planting materials for vegetatively propagated crops such as coffee, banana, pineapple and root crops. However, few countries have adopted GM for crop production improvement, and for agricultural research and development (Table 1).

Table 1. Status of Genetically Modified (GM) Crops in Africa
(Modified from

Application stage No. of Countries Country Names
Commercial production 3 Burkina Faso; Egypt; South Africa
Confined field testing 11 Burkina Faso; Cameroon; Egypt; Ethiopia; Ghana; Kenya; South Africa; Uganda; Nigeria; Malawi; Swaziland
Contained research At least 16 Burkina Faso; Cameroon; Egypt; Ethiopia; Ghana; Kenya; Mali; Mauritius; Namibia; Nigeria; South Africa; Tanzania; Tunisia; Uganda; Zimbabwe; Malawi; Swaziland
Developing capacity for research and development At least 28 South Africa; Burkina Faso; Egypt; Kenya; Morocco; Senegal; Tanzania; Uganda; Zambia; Zimbabwe; Benin; Cameroon; Ghana; Malawi; Mali; Mauritius; Namibia; Niger; Nigeria; Tunisia; Algeria; Botswana; Ethiopia; Madagascar; Rwanda; Burundi; Sudan; Swaziland

The GM crops that are under commercial production in Africa are cotton (South Africa, Sudan and Burkina Faso), maize (South Africa) and soybean (South Africa) (James, 2014) while various crops and traits are under research and development (Table 2).
Table 2. GM Crops and Traits under Research and Development in Africa
(Modified from Karembu et al., 2009).

Country Crop Trait Stage of development
Burkina Faso Cow pea Insect resistance Confined field trials (CFT)
Cotton Insect resistance + Herbicide tolerance CFT
Sorghum Nutrient enhancement Regulatory approval
Kenya Maize Water efficient CFT
Cotton Insect resistance CFT
Cassava Brown streak virus resistance CFT
Mosaic virus resistance CFT
Sweet potato Virus resistance CFT
Sorghum Nutrient enhancement CFT
Uganda Cotton Insect resistance and herbicide tolerance CFT
Banana Bacterial wilt resistance CFT
Fungus resistance CFT
Nematode resistance CFT
Nutrient enhancement CFT
Cassava Mosaic virus resistance CFT
Brown streak virus resistance  
Sweet potato Virus resistance CFT
Maize Insect resistance CFT
Maize Water efficient CFT
Rice Nitrogen efficiency and drought tolerance CFT
Potato Late blight Fungus resistance Pending approval
Nigeria Cassava Nutrient enhancement CFT
Mosaic virus resistance CFT
Brown streak virus resistance CFT
Sorghum Nutrient enhancement CFT
Cowpea Insect resistance CFT
  Rice Nitrogen-use, water-efficient and salt-tolerance Permit granted but trial yet to commence
Malawi Cotton Insect resistance CFT
Cow pea Insect resistance CFT
Ghana Cowpea Insect resistance CFT
Cotton Insect resistance Multi-location trials (MLT)
Herbicide tolerance CFT
Herbicide tolerance x Insect resistance (Stack) CFT
Rice Nitrogen efficient and salt tolerance CFT
South Africa Maize Drought tolerance CFT
Herbicide tolerance Field trials (FT)
Insect resistance FT
Insect resistance and herbicide tolerance FT
Viral resistance CFT
Sorghum Nutrient enhancement CFT
Cassava Starch enhancement GHT
Cotton Herbicide tolerance FT
Insect resistance and herbicide tolerance FT
Potato Insect resistance FT
Sugar cane Alternative sugar FT
Egypt Maize Insect resistance FT
Cotton Salt tolerance GHT
Wheat Drought tolerance FT
Fungus resistance GHT
Salt tolerance Lab
Potato Virus resistance FT
Banana Virus resistance Lab
Cucumber Virus resistance FT
Melon Virus resistance FT
Squash Virus resistance Lab
Tomato Virus resistance Lab
Swaziland Cotton Insect resistance FT

Many African countries have developed or are in the process of developing regulatory systems for modern biotechnology application (Figure 1).
Figure 1. Status of Biosafety Regulation in Africa
Source: ABNE

To date, July 2015, 49 African countries have ratified the Cartagena Protocol of Biosafety. For more information about the biosafety systems and enabling environment in Africa, please see Legal Section link . A number of initiatives have been taken by various players including:

  • United Nations Environment Programme – Global Environment Facility (UNEP-GEF),
  • African Union (AU) Biosafety Project, New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD)
  • Africa Biosciences Initiatives and African Biosafety Network of Expertise (ABNE),
  • Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA),
  • West and Central African Council for Agricultural Research and Development (CORAF/WECARD),
  • Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA)- African Biotechnology Biosafety Policy Platform (ABBPP),
  • African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF),
  • Program for Biosafety Systems (PBS),
  • Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project II (ABSPII), and
  • NGOs like AfricaBio, International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA)- AfriCenter, African Biotechnology Stakeholders Forum (ABSF) and Africa Harvest Biotechnology Foundation International (AHBFI) to facilitate development and safe application of GM crops in Africa.
  • Biosafety Resource Network (BRN)
  • Biosafety South Africa
References Further Reading

Literature Cited

  • James, Clive (2008). Global status of commercialized biotech/GM crops: 2008. ISAAA Brief No. 39
  • Karembu, M., Nguthi F. and Ismail H. (2009) Biotech Crops in Africa: The Final Frontier, ISAAA AfriCenter
  • UNECA (2009). Challenges to agricultural development in Africa. Economic Report on Africa 2009: Developing African Agriculture through Regional Value Chains, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) 117-133
Other Relevant Links

Status of Biotechnology in Various Countries

  1. General search of GM crops in Africa – Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)
  2. GM crops at various stages of release: International database – ILSI Center for Environmental Risk Assessment