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Bioscience Issues

Dr Matthew Schnurr

Dr. Matthew Schnurr
Department of International Development Studies
Dalhousie University
Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

Can Genetically Modified crops help African farmers? Investigating attitudes and intentions to adopt GM matooke banana in Uganda

This project pioneers a mixed-methods approach to evaluate the appropriateness of Genetically Modified (GM) technology for African farmers. The major objectives of this research are to:
(1) assess whether GM crops correspond with farmers’ needs;
(2) evaluate farmers’ attitudes towards GM crops;
(3) estimate the potential adoption rates of GM crops; and
(4) determine whether GM crops constitute an appropriate technology for farmers.

This project fills a significant gap in knowledge by offering a place-specific, empirically grounded study of farmer attitudes and intentions to adopt GM crops in Uganda, which houses one of the continent’s largest experimental programs dedicated to biotechnology. The project focuses on GM matooke banana, the primary carbohydrate staple for most Ugandans. Current experimental trials focus on varieties that are genetically modified to resist the crop’s most pernicious pests and diseases, as well as bio-fortified matooke designed to enhance the content of both Vitamin A and iron.

Among the more important goals of this research is to design and implement a new methodology for determining the extent to which GM matooke banana is consistent with key environmental, political, financial and cultural priorities of the intended adopters, smallholder farmers. This study will be the first to combine the standardization and scalability of quantitative data with the depth and thoroughness of qualitative data to identify and measure the specific causal variables that shape farmer attitudes towards GM crops. Over 180 farmers in the major matooke growing regions will engage in participatory ranking exercises designed to assess their perceptions of the benefits and risks associated with GM technology. Groups of farmers will then participate in gender-specific focus groups to offer insights into the meaning of quantitative results. The methods developed here will offer a novel approach for evaluating farmer attitudes and behavioural intentions to adopt new agricultural technologies.

This research has two important scholarly outcomes: 1) This will be the first study to offer a pre-release assessment of farmer attitudes and intentions towards GM technology and provide a reliable estimate of future adoption rates for GM matooke in Uganda, and 2) This research pioneers an innovative methodological program that captures the complexities of farmer decision-making around GM crops, which will have wide applicability for future research into the potential adoption rates of new agricultural technologies across Africa. Taken together, these research findings will make an important contribution to the scholarly debate over the potential for biotechnology to improve agricultural production among smallholder farmers in the Global South.

Research results will be communicated to development scholars, as well as broader policy, community, and public audiences. Frist, findings will be presented at the annual meetings of those scholarly associations who have been most prominent in the debate over the potential for GM crops to transform African agriculture, and published in high quality peer-reviewed journals in geography and development studies. Second, results will be communicated to policy makers in both Uganda and donor countries in order to directly influence the research programs and legislative policies governing the commercialization of agricultural biotechnology. Third, follow-up workshops will educate farmers on the study’s findings so they can hear perspectives shared by farmers in other parts of the country and make informed choices around the adoption of these new technologies. Finally, a coordinated press campaign will help transform the conversation around GM’s potential in Uganda to one that revolves around farmer decision-making and preferences.

Research for this project began in May 2012 and is on schedule to meet its projected timeline. Work began by randomly sampling districts in the three major matooke growing regions of the country (eastern, central, western) and creating a stratified sample based on the number of farmers in each region, in order to generate a data set that is representative of the country’s matooke producers. We then initiated on-farm ranking exercises with farmers in the central and eastern region, which were completed in February 2013. Currently we are carrying out on-farm visits in the western region. As of April 2013 we have conducted participatory ranking exercises with 104 farmers (out of a total sample of 180).

Focus groups were initiated in December 2012. Four focus groups were undertaken with farmers in three central districts, with another four planned in the eastern district in June 2013. We expect all data collection to be completed by September 2013. Data analysis is scheduled to begin in Summer 2013, with results writing and dissemination expected to start in the Fall of 2013.