Plant Science Post

Herbicides and Biotech Crops Control Weeds in Africa

May 3, 2016

Motlatsi Musi-square (2)In Africa, farmers can lose anywhere from 25 to 100 percent of their crops if weeds are not properly controlled. This is because weeds crowd out and steal resources  – such as water or nutrients – from crops, causing them not to reach their full potential or die.

Research shows that herbicides can increase yields by up to 55 percent in maize and 75 percent in cotton alone when weeds are present. Herbicide-tolerant biotech crops, which have been approved for planting in South Africa and Egypt, also have similar effects. Between 1998 and 2013, these biotech crops added US$1.15 billion to farm income in South Africa.

Motlatsi Musi, a South African farmer who uses both herbicides and biotech herbicide-tolerant crops, explains their importance to him and the continent. Herbicide-resistant crops work in tandem with specific herbicides that kill all weeds but not the crop.

How have herbicides improved your crops in terms of quality and quantity? 

Since I started using herbicide with herbicide-tolerant biotech maize seeds, my yields have improved 34 percent. Without such tools, manual weeding must be done two-to-three times per season to sufficiently control weeds; otherwise, they grow too high for even the tractor to drive through! Weeding with a hoe isn’t efficient either.

To what extent have herbicides reduced your hand-weeding requirements? 

Herbicides reduce hand-weeding, yielding positive results and profitable crops. With my 12-meter boom spray, it takes about 30 minutes per hectare or two hours of spraying with a knapsack to apply the herbicide. With a hoe and 10 people, it takes two days! Not only is the use of herbicides faster than hand-weeding, it’s more effective and cheaper.

What is the potential impact of African farmers’ access to herbicides and biotech crops?

Hand-weeding has scared some farmers away from farming, so new technologies can help retain them. Many youth from Southern African countries are in South Africa working for farmers like me, for example, because we have access to such technologies. Their political leaders find them on my farm while on fact-finding missions calling for biotech crops in their own countries!

How have herbicide-tolerant biotech crops improved your weed control and yields?

Biotechnology is a tool Africa must have. Unfortunately, opponents want to deny Africans access to it. In March 2014, the Southern African Development Community held the first African Congress on Conservation Agriculture, which promoted the use of agricultural technologies. We need to continue such conferences and encourage farmers to embrace technologies that can help them.

Have these technologies benefitted your livelihood as a farmer?

Homelessness made me a farmer and then farming gave me a home. Biotech herbicide-tolerant maize helped me increase my yields and grow more hectares per season. It gave me enough money to send my children to school for a good education. I’m proud to say that one of my sons has a degree in biomedical studies and he’s working at a laboratory to prepare medicine for mankind.