Great claims are made both for and against the potential contribution of GMOs to the future of African agriculture. This paper explores this, looking at what biotechnology might mean for agricultural and food production systems in Zimbabwe. It focuses on two key crops, cotton and maize, and argues that choices about possible biotechnology futures have to be understood in relation to trends towards globalisation and liberalisation of the seed industry, and also shifts in the political economy of agriculture, both at home and overseas. Assuming that there is support for some role for agricultural biotechnology in Zimbabwe, and leaving aside questions of regulation, several key choices emerge, linked to four different future scenarios: is it best to rely on market-supply of technologies from multinational corporations? Or should Zimbabwe seek to develop technologies independently? Alternatively, if the latter is unrealistic, what scope is there for the pursuit of a middle position, striking bargains with big corporations and pushing for more locally appropriate forms of technology? Or, finally, are choices ultimately irrelevant with the most likely outcome being that transgenic biotechnology essentially passes Zimbabwe by? Several factors are identified that are key to these different scenarios, these include: technology choice; issues of technology access and ownership; the – as yet uncertain – role of new farmers emerging as a result of land reform and changes in the agrarian economy; the shifting dynamics of seed markets; changing industrial structure and ownership patterns; new economic conditions and trends in international trade relating to GMOs. The paper concludes that these contexts and trade-offs need to be brought more specifically into debates about alternative GM or non-GM futures in Zimbabwe, and elsewhere in Africa, than has happened to date.
IDS Working Paper 189, Biotechnology Policy Series 8. Brighton, UK: IDS. ISBN 1 85864 493 3, 33 pp.