Agricultural Reviews

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Agricultural Reviews, volume 43 issue 4 (december 2022) : 419-427

Potential Impact of using Genetically Modified Crops in Ethiopia: A Review

Ashebir Seyoum Feyisa1,*
1Department of Plant Science, College of Agriculture and Natural Resource, Bonga University P.O. Box 334, Bonga, Ethiopia.
Cite article:- Feyisa Seyoum Ashebir (2022). Potential Impact of using Genetically Modified Crops in Ethiopia: A Review . Agricultural Reviews. 43(4): 419-427. doi: 10.18805/ag.R-213.
Agriculture in Ethiopia is reliant on the poor farmer’s income. Crop production in the country is hampered by a variety of factors, among them subsistence farming, inefficient use of farm inputs, climate change, poor export performance, policy uncertainty and low interest in agricultural credit are the major ones. Plant pests also pose a threat to food crops, resulting in significant losses for smallholder farmers and jeopardizing food security. Thus, Ethiopian policymakers recently recognized genetically engineered crops as a viable method of increasing food productivity and quality. A thorough empirical review had conducted, focusing on the status, potential benefits and drawbacks of genetically modified crop production in Ethiopia. Descriptive statistics had used, followed by raw data interpretation. Genetically modified crop production is an option for addressing food insecurity, malnutrition and the production of low-cost feedstock. However, as genetically modified crops become more prevalent in Ethiopian agriculture, humans, wildlife and the environment must all be considered. As a result, GM crops can help poor farmers improve their agricultural livelihoods if better national biosafety regulations had implemented.
Humans have been breed plants to improve desirable characteristics for thousands of years. Selective breeding methodologies have been using to enhance traits since the discovery of Mendel’s Law in 1990 (Fehr, 1991). Most of such techniques improve viability against disease, pests and climate change. Crop yields boost because of the green revolution, but the benefits were limited to improved farm input usage and the adoption of strains that responded better to fertilizer.
However, biotic and abiotic constraints such as drought conditions, soil problems, a lack of agricultural land and the advent of new pests have inhibited more yield increases.
The ever-growing human population, which is estimated to hit 9.8 billion by 2050 (UN, 2017), along with climate change, increased demand for the agricultural product for industries, natural resource scarcity and the percentage of arable land per capita on the earth, is nearing capacity will intensify the struggle for food (UN, 2017).  According to the (FAO) report year 2019, 820 million peoples suffered from hunger and malnutrition (FAO, 2019). Farm production would need to more than double by 2050 (Ray et al., 2013).  Thus, the world must look for a new way to improve productivity in line with improving the efficiency of supply chains and reducing wastage.
Plant breeding has been a crucial technique in agricultural production improvement; the application of hybrid vigor via cross-breeding has resulted in significant productivity advantages in global food crops (Kempe et al., 2014). Plant breeding has been a crucial technique in agricultural production improvement; the application of hybrid vigor via cross-breeding has resulted in significant productivity advantages in global food crops (Kempe et al., 2014). Convectional breeding is based on the introduction of new genes into current cultivars through sexual crossings. It also leads to the transmission of the entire set of genes from both parents, which may not be desired and may result in a lower yield. Traditional plant breeding programs are also limited to what genetic variation available in the gene pool of the crop or close relative that is sexually compatible. It is a time-consuming and labor-intensive method. Thus, researchers are switching towards biotechnological approaches for crop improvement (Saurabh et al., 2014).
According to the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (2000), Biotechnology has defined as any technological application that uses biological systems, living organisms, to make or modify products or processes for specific use. Since their introduction, GM crops have been reported beneficial in crop yield, economic growth and environmental impacts (Zhang et al., 2020). However, advancement in GM crops has raised several concerns regarded to their safety. Naturalness, transfer of genes between species, ecological, economic and trade impact issues are some of the questions that arose in the technology.
In Ethiopia, agriculture is the dominant sector of the economy (Diriba, 2018). It’s contributing to 37% of the GDP and 73% of employment opportunities (FAO, 2019). Although the agriculture sector accounts for more than half of the country’s GDP, changes in the industry are uncommon. Our world, including Ethiopia, is currently suffering climate change, which will impact agriculture, the environment and health. This transformation may also result in new insect pests, illnesses and weeds challenged to manage through prior technology (Bale et al., 2002).
Recently, global food security faced challenges due to an ever-increasing population, increases in food prices owing to severe climatic effects, agricultural input costs and agricultural policy. In addition, environmental sustainability issue also becomes serious agenda because of rapid industrialization, urbanization and population growth. Furthermore, with the rapid industrial revolution, globalization and population growth, environmental sustainability is becoming a big problem. As a result, farmers would have better necessity accessibility to other crops that use new, environmentally sustainable technology to ensure food security and environmental sustainability. Africa is the center of origin and also a producer of several cereal crops. But, yield gaps are high due to climate change, population growth, poor mechanization, poor soils and weak agricultural policies (Kolawole et al., 2010).
Since Ethiopia is one of the world’s most food-insecure countries, the government has attempted to formulate and execute various economic growth strategies, with agricultural development taking precedence (Tenaye, 2020). According to Pender et al., (2001), cereal crops provide food for Ethiopians, so most agricultural transformation plans prioritize increasing cereal crop productivity. Minten and Dorosh, 2019; Tenaye, 2020) found that cereal prices have increased significantly during the last two decades. As a result of worldwide price increases and reduced production due to climate change, this inflation rate would worsen. Inflation has aggravated food insecurity in Ethiopian cities.
Increasing agricultural productivity and tackling such problems need innovation and the use of productivity-raising technologies Spielman and Pandya Lorch (2009). Genetically engineered crops may be an option to increase agricultural productivity in developing countries like Ethiopia. Like other technological interventions, genetic engineering may not eliminate all agricultural production restrictions, but it may be especially effective in tackling productivity restrictions that conventional methods haven’t yet addressed. Thus, Ethiopia is needed to take part in new agricultural technologies like GM crop production to feed the ever-increasing food insecure citizens. Nevertheless, policymakers should have a strategy regarding farmers’ choices and the future export market. Keeping the above argument in mind, the objective of this paper is to discuss the potential influence of genetically modified crop production on Ethiopia’s subsistence-based agricultural system.
An extensive review of both published and unpublish documents had done. As a result, the information gathered, organized, interpreted and evaluated comes from secondary sources. Various authors and researchers have written on this topic; all available sources had used to assess current production and the beneficial and adverse effects of producing genetically modified crops in Ethiopia. As a result, descriptive statistics, followed by interpretation of raw data obtained from organizational sources, were used to justify the results.
Ethiopian agriculture
Ethiopia’s agriculture relies on the livelihoods of poor farmers. These farmers’ scarcity of agricultural land and the backwardness of their production methods are challenges to the sector’s lack of growth. The agricultural sector, despite many challenges, is still the backbone of the country’s economy. Despite this, the government and non-governmental organizations have conducted numerous studies on what needs to be changed to improve the lives of impoverished farmers. However, no solution was found that can permanently enhance the quality of life of poor farmers. It is because the strategies are imaginary and cannot solve the problem in the long run.
Ethiopian agricultural productivity is affected by a subsistence-oriented production system, minimal use of purchased farm inputs, unstable weather conditions, low output prices and policy uncertainty and a lack of interest in agricultural loans (Urgessa, 2015). Additionally, waterlogging, salinity and parasitic weeds are also crucial challenges for Ethiopian crop production. Plant pests and diseases also affect food crops and causing significant losses to smallholder farmers and impact food security. Plant breeding combined with chemical fertilizers, pesticides, irrigation and other yield-enhancing inputs has helped raise food production. Even though chronic hunger is still widespread in many developing countries, the global proportion of hungry people was reduced from over 50% in the first half of the twentieth century to around 11% today (Qaim, 2020). However, intensified agricultural production reached its limit. Therefore there is a need for new technology which could contribute to higher crop yields, lower use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, better crop resilience to climate stress, reduced postharvest losses and more nutritious foods. New plant breeding technologies (NPBTs), including genetically modified and gene edited crops, offer significant potentials for sustainable agricultural development and food security while addressing shortcomings of the Green Revolution (Qaim, 2020). In line with this, Ethiopia has approved the commercial cultivation of genetically modified (GM) insect-resistant cotton (Bt-cotton), confined field trials on GM maize and disease-resistant enset (Ensete ventricosum) (Sida, 2021).
What are genetically modified organisms?
It is challenging to get the universally accepted definition for the term genetically modified organisms. The European Commission and the Food and Agriculture Organization, on the other hand, define genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and their products like plants or animals produced through techniques in which the genetic material has altered in a way that does not occur naturally through mating or natural recombination (Oliver, 2014).

Before we talk about recombinant DNA technology, we first need to know what DNA is. In the early 1800s, it was unthinkable for the leading scientists and philosophers that a chemical molecule could hold enough information to build a human being. In 1928, Frederick Griffith demonstrated a transmission process of genetic information by transforming Pneumococcus (Malago, 2009). Avery et al., (1944) have proven that Griffith’s transforming principle was DNA. The next step after the discovery of DNA was the idea of how DNA structure might look. A race between various lab groups ensued and in 1953 James Watson and Francis Crick published a model of DNA structure. The demonstration that the genetic code was (almost) universal and the advent of gene cloning and DNA sequencing in the 1970s led to an explosion of activity in the new field of molecular genetics and was a spur to the development of new methods for genetic transformation of animals and plants (Wang et al., 2017). In vitro production of a recombinant DNA molecule has four basic steps.

(1) Obtain different DNA fragments using restriction endonucleases for specific target sequence DNA sites using enzymatic cleavage.
(2) Joining the desired gene in vector.
(3) Introducing the vector in the host organism, which is grown to produce multiple copies of the incorporated DNA fragment in culture.
(4) Finally clones containing a relevant DNA fragment are selected and harvested. The first recombinant DNA molecule was discovered in Paul Berg’s lab in 1972. This pioneering work formed the basis of the recombinant DNA revolution.
Importance and use of gMO crops
In 2050 the global population will reach an estimated nine billion people. Presently the yields of most major crops are decreases, while the demand is growing. However, the productivity of major crops should be double by 2050. According to the FAO consensus study, the global yield increases necessary to satisfy future demand must be acquired from the same amount of land now under cultivation (FAO, 2012). This scenario does not consider additional needs on farmlands for bioethanol production, animal feed production, inappropriate land-use problems, water resource problems and climate change problems (Alexandratos and Bruinsma, 2012). Therefore, attaining a high yield must come from genetic improvement or increase agricultural inputs. Conventional breeding cannot keep pace with what is required. So to meet the target, genetically modified crops might fill the gap (Oliver, 2014).
To understand how genetically modified crops can support Ethiopian agriculture, we must first examine the country’s main crop problems and the efforts made to resolve them.
Maize is one of the most important cereal crops in production volume, area coverage and household consumption. It occupies about 2 million ha, the second largest production area next to teff (Abate et al., 2015). Despite its rise in total production, the national average yield of maize (3.6 tons/ha) was still lower than the world average (5.8 tons/ha) and potential yield (12.5 t/ha) in the 2018 production period (van Dijk et al., 2020). The main reason for this yield gap is related to biotic and abiotic stresses concerning climate change. In addition, the spread of insect pests, plant diseases and invasive weeds are also a threat to farmers in Ethiopia (Yirga et al., 2020).
The Ethiopia Institute of Agricultural Research, in collaboration with international research institutes, has been actively engaged in the development of better maize technologies suited for the country’s different maize producing environments (Yirga et al., 2020). Over 60 improved maize varieties (hybrids and open-pollinated varieties) with associated agronomic and crop protection practices have been released or registered in the country since the 1970s (Fig 1). Nevertheless, on average, 80 percent of maize varieties cultivated in Ethiopia were developed from germplasm that had not been enhanced for drought tolerance (Ertiro et al., 2019). However, different agro-ecological zones and maize-producing areas are affected by droughts of varying intensity (Table 1). To address these issues and boost agricultural productivity, the Ethiopian government approved a field trial of drought-tolerant and pest-resistant TELA corn, marking Ethiopia’s first GMO food crop planting.
Cotton is one of Ethiopia’s main cash crops and it is widely grown in the lowlands on large and small-scale farms using both irrigation schemes and rain-fed agriculture. Ethiopia has excellent cotton-growing conditions and a large amount of land that could use to grow cotton (Bayrau et al., 2014). However, only about 3% of the country’s total potential cotton production areas had utilized. To transform the country’s agricultural-based economy into a manufacturing-based economy, the government has built industrial parks in most country’s regions, focusing on agro-processing sectors. The government paid prior attention to the textile and clothing sectors to attain this goal. Cotton is a raw material in this industry. The continuous supply of high-quality raw materials at a fair price is critical for the textile and garment industry’s continued development (Addis et al., 2021).
Cotton varieties and production system in ethiopia
Cotton is grown in a range of areas throughout Ethiopia. It is estimated that approximately 3 million hectares of land are suitable for cotton cultivation. With the current global scenario favoring food crops over other crops, Ethiopia’s vast potential advantages make it adopt its cultivation. Though Ethiopia has a long history of cotton cultivation, it only cultivates about 3% of the total land suitable for its production (Adiss et al., 2021). Ethiopia’s cotton production system is diverse, with about 25% of the production area benefiting from irrigation facilities and producing 35-40% of national output. The national average yield is estimated to be 2.5 tons/ha under irrigation and 1.5 tons/ha under rain fed conditions (Lançon and Woldu, 2020).  Generally, this yield per hectare is low compared to the main cotton producing countries in the world.

Cotton production and productivity are affected by biotic, abiotic, social and economic factors. Among biotic factors, bacterial blight, Flea Beetle, Pink Bollworm and Mealybug are the major ones. Meanwhile, cotton bollworm is one of the pest challenges farmers struggle to manage. It cause about 36-60% yield loss and on irrigated cotton production (Gudeta and Egziabher, 2019). In addition to this, losses associates with unfavorable weather conditions (Zeleke et al., 2019). According to National Planning Commission (2016), the lack of quality seeds and poor supply chain affects both cotton producers and textile mills. Informal seed sector is by far the largest seed supply chain. In major cotton production areas, small scale farmers are using massively fuzzy seed from more informal channels, like own source, bought from ginneries, local markets and fellow farmers. Despite numerous research efforts by Worer Agricultural Research Center to improve cotton genotypes, Deltapine 90, Stam 59A and Acala SJ2 varieties are still widely grown commercially throughout Ethiopia. However, Deltapine 90 and Acala SJ2 varieties had passed 30 years. According to research results, these varieties no longer correspond to the current standards (Lançon and Woldu, 2020).
In 2015, a change in the Biosafety regulation had allowed the importation of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) for a confined experiment. Several hybrid and GMO cotton varieties from India have been introduced and approved by the National Variety Release Committee (NVRC). However, they did not perform well enough compared to the cost of the seed (Lançon and Woldu, 2020; Adiss et al., 2021). In line with this, the cotton production system in the country should be economical, socially beneficial and environmentally friendly.

According to various research findings, the majority of cotton production constraints were related to a lack of improved varieties, a seed system, inputs, mechanization and a value chain and marketing. These constraints may be altered by the conventional production system. However, because the country’s cotton production areas were close to the border, there was a risk of GMO cotton seed spreading from neighboring countries. Thus, it is still necessary to implement national research programs so that biotechnology and plant breeding advances can be used in the development of cotton varieties adapted to Ethiopia’s specific environmental conditions, as well as in the control of regionally important insect pests.
Enset, a member of the Musaceae family and the species Ensete, is a popular home garden food crop in Ethiopia. It resembles a single-stemmed, large banana plant (Sahle et al., 2018). Enset is one of the most important crops in Ethiopia, contributing to food security and rural livelihoods for approximately 20 million people (Olango et al., 2014). It increases soil fertility and has high productivity, drought tolerance and environmental sustainability. Despite its importance, Ethiopian enset production is hampered by a variety of pests and diseases. Enset Xanthomonas Wilt is the most severe of these pests and pathogens, according to farmers (Yemataw et al., 2020). Numerous researches have been done to solve the issue. Cultural practices, sanitation control measures, use of disease-free sucker for planting material, crop rotation and the use of resistant clones are all viable management options for bacterial wilt. However, no complete resistant clone has been discovered (Hunduma et al., 2015). However, research on host-pathogen interactions revealed that disease susceptibility or tolerance levels differed between genotypes (Table 2). Furthermore, many tissue culture-based propagation procedures have been established to provide disease-free planting material, which will help to prevent the spread of bacterial wilt disease on a large scale (Table 3). Furthermore, the lack of any effective chemicals has placed farmers under stress. As a result, new technology is required to produce disease-resistant plant material where conventional breeding methods have failed.
Production of GMO crops
According to James (2015), genetically modified crops were planted on 191.7 hectares of land in 2018. The top five biotech crop producers in the world are the United States, Brazil, Argentina, Canada and India. North America produces 44.4 per cent of the world’s biotech crops, with the United States leading the pack (James, 2018). Soybean (92.1 M ha) was the most widely planted biotech crop in 2015, followed by maize (53.6 Mha), cotton (24 Mha) and oilseed rape (canola) (8.5 Mha). This indicates that soybeans and cotton are the most widely cultivated genetically modified crops in the world. South Africa, Burkina Faso and Sudan are the top three GMO-producing countries in Africa, with GM cotton as the main crop.
Ethiopia has not yet begun growing genetically modified food grains; nevertheless, the permission to cultivate genetically-modified cotton would advance the country forward in this industry. In addition, ongoing maize and enset research initiatives indicate the country’s potential competitiveness in the sector.
Seed sovereignty and food security
Ethiopia is one of the African countries struggling to feed its growing population, despite the agriculture sector is the driving force of the economy. According to Devereux (2000), food insecurity is a situation that resulted from failing to produce enough food in good season and incorporates low food intake, variable access to food and vulnerability to shocks. Among many reasons are contributing to food insecurity in the country, subsistence agricultural production and rapid population growth are the main challenges to food insecurity in Ethiopia. FAO (2012) reported that over 800 million peoples were suffering from hunger and malnutrition, among a quarter populations is found in Sub-Saharan countries. Thus, a novel technology that sustains agricultural productivity should develop to feed the malnourished millions.

The choice of a national food security strategy is contingent on a country’s development resources, the structural and institutional state of its political, economic and social life. There are three main types of agri-food policy solutions aimed at food security in this context. Food self-reliance, food self-sufficiency and food sovereignty are the three primary forms of agri-food policy strategies ensuring food security (Baer-Nawrocka, 2019). The assumption of the first strategy is to produce and export goods in which the country has a comparative advantage. Food sovereignty and food self-sufficiency, on the other hand, are focused on increasing the domestic production of vital agricultural products, even though the country has no comparative advantage in this region (Baer-Nawrocka, 2019).  Food sovereignty is the right of nations to decide their food production, consumption and save safe and nutritious food to ensure food security. Seed is the most fundamental and vital agricultural unit, which is the basis for food security and biodiversity conservation. It also serves as a vehicle for bringing new technologies and support services to rural areas (Chand and Kc, 2020).
For the farmer, the seed is more than just a source of future plants and food; it is also a repository of culture and history. The ultimate symbol of food security is the seed. The free exchange of seeds between farmers has been the foundation for preserving biodiversity and food security. Farmers’ free exchange extends beyond seed exchange to include exchanges of ideas and knowledge (Shiva, 2001). In recent decades, Agriculture has turned to genetically engineered crops as the only hope for solving the chronic food shortage. GMO production and usage are increasing, which is incompatible with long-term sustainability. It is highly uniform and promotes the development of monocultures and intensive production technologies.
Large companies that grow GM seeds purchase rivaling smaller seed growing companies to raise the prices of planting materials and take control over farmers. Farmers are compelled to purchase patented genetically modified seeds, which are significantly more expensive than traditional seeds (Schlett and Beke, 2015). Farmers’ freedom will decline, traditional planting materials will fade away and GM seeds will succeed and eliminate diversity. Patented GM seeds jeopardize seed sovereignty and, thus, food sovereignty, because farmers can no longer save their seeds for the following season (Schlett and Beke, 2015). Burkina Faso, Sudan and South Africa are the only African countries that have allowed commercial cultivation of genetically modified (GM) crops. Only South Africa grows a genetically modified food crop, while Burkina Faso has banned the cultivation of GM cotton following a massive failure for farmers and seed companies (AFSA, 2020).
Ethiopia has one of the world’s most diversified agricultural systems and is the origin and diversification center for several important food and fiber crops. For thousands of years, Ethiopia’s small-scale small farmers have cultivated and managed such diversity in agricultural development. There is little evidence that genetically modified organisms enhance production, reduce pesticide usage, or alleviate environmental concerns in the long run. As a result, GMO experiments are ongoing on enset and maize, which are vital crops for nearly 20 million and nine million Ethiopians, respectively, which is concerning (Abate et al., 2015; Borrell, 2019). Therefore, there should be a way to maintain farmers’ rights. FAO Resolution 5/89 officially endorsed farmers’ rights as the ‘rights arising from the past, present and future contributions of farmers in conserving, improving and making available plant genetic resources, particularly those in the centers of origin/diversity (FAO 1989). For instance, If you plant a transgenic crop while your neighbor opposes GMOs and only grows heirloom varieties, your populations will inevitably cross-pollinate, resulting in DNA from your plants in your neighbor’s seeds (and vice versa). As a consequence, your neighbor’s field will have contaminated with the patented seed. Thus, for seed lines to stay really “pure,” improved agricultural planning and open seed storage technologies must be used and involves adopting effective measures to conserve biodiversity while also ensuring public access to landrace seeds.
Gene flow and genetic diversity         
Gene flow is a natural phenomenon that alters the gene frequency in populations (Mallet, 2001). There are three methods of gene flow: seed dispersal, horizontal transfer and pollen movement. All techniques result in gene flow, or more accurately, the transfer of transgenes that results in genetic exchange (Ellstrand, 2003). Crop-to-wild, crop-to-weed and crop-to-crop gene flow and contamination are the main issues with pollen movement and seed dispersal. Crop-to-wild and crop-to-weed gene flow have received attention (Ellstrand, 2003). The main concern here is that an influx of genes from domesticated crops would alter the fitness (ability to reproduce and leave viable offspring) of wild and weedy populations. Coexistence and identity preservation among transgenic and non-transgenic cropping systems at the field level are becoming the main issues in the current agricultural scenario, where 189.8 million ha of GM crops were planted in 2017 with a global market value of US$ 17.2 billion (ISAAA, 2017).
To reduce transgene escape, numerous techniques have been suggested, including the use of a buffer zone around the GM crop in a field with barren areas and genetic methods to reduce the fitness of transgenic hybrids (Daniell, 2002). However, Cotton, maize, soybean, oilseed rape, rice and wheat have all been found to have convincing evidence of transgene escape (Dong et al., 2016).
The introduction of GM crops in developing countries which are centers of diversity of specific crops may in some cases be problematic. Ethiopia is one of the richest genetic resource centers in the world in terms of crop diversity. This is due to a variety of farming systems, socioeconomics, cultures and agro-ecologies. Coffee (Coffea arabica), safflower (Carthamus tinctorius), tef (Eragrostis tef), noug (Guizotia abyssinica), anchote (Coccinia abyssinica) and enset (Ensete ventricosum) are examples of crop plants that originated in Ethiopia (IBC, 2012b).
It is recommended that in the case of vulnerable areas such as centers of diversity, the introduction of genetic material from GM crops into related species should be controlled. According to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), specific risks related to “persistence and invasiveness, including plant-to-plant gene flow,” must be assessed in the risk assessment of GE plants (EFSA, 2010).
Ethiopia is one of the African countries struggling to feed its growing population, despite the agriculturae sector is the driving force of the economy. It contributes to 46% of the GDP, over 90% of exports and 83% employment opportunities. Ethiopia’s agriculture is based on the livelihoods of poor farmers. These farmers’ scarcity of agricultural land and the backwardness of their production methods are some of the challenges to the sector’s lack of growth. Thus, Ethiopia is needed to take part in new agricultural technologies like GM crop production to feed the ever-increasing food insecure citizens. However, GM crops pose questions about possible threats to living things and the environment. As a result, extensive risk evaluations of genetically modified plants and strict adherence to national biosafety rules are necessary.

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