“When We Could be Second to None We Keep on Trying to be Last from Every One”
(By Prof. Seyoum Gelaye)
Most Ethiopians appear to be unaware of the serious challenges faced by our Country. In the name of agricultural development, we are quickly replacing our diverse natural genetic resources with the so called Genetically Modified (GM) seeds, the impacts of which are not yet known.
Ethiopia is one of the only two African countries, among the five in the world, blessed with biodiversity. Others are Nigeria in Africa, China and India in Asia, and Mexico in South America. We have a large number unique domesticated and wild plants, animals, insects, birds, aquatic lives and soil organisms perfected by Mother Nature to fully adapt to environmental diversity in the Country.
We have yet to realize the full genetic potential, catalog our resources, develop national policies and techniques on preserving the irreplaceable natural resources. We have yet to identify the full potential of our wild food and medicinal plants.
Brazilians have taken over the patent for our naturally decaffeinated coffee. A US company is claiming ownership of genetic resource derived from Ethiopian barley. Starbucks is claiming ownership of our “Yirga Cheffa” Coffee.
The landrace (indigenous) seeds are the best adapted to our environment and can not compare with the newly introduced exogenous and GM plants promoted by multinational corporations as panaceas for food shortages throughout the world. Through genetic manipulation, multinational corporations have developed GM corn, cotton, vegetables, insects, food animals, and other field crops, the potentials of which have not been rigorously investigated in our country.
At this time, the right approach for Ethiopia would be not to use the GM seeds but use improved indigenous seeds (landrace) developed using the classical selection and breeding techniques, with the goal to increase our agricultural yield by more than 50 percent using sustainable agricultural techniques.
Economically developed nations mandate that GM seeds be developed under strict control, and must be seriously evaluated for a total of at least 7 years at local, state, and National levels before they are distributed for highly regulated commercial use. On the other hand, the same companies are given free access to our natural resources and allowed to develop GM organisms or freely distribute their so called “improved seeds” (GM) with out a serious concern to the possible environmental damage or cross contamination of the landrace.