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Open Access Research article

Tanzanian farmers' knowledge and attitudes to GM biotechnology and the potential use of GM crops to provide improved levels of food security. A Qualitative Study

Christopher P Lewis1*, James N Newell2, Caroline M Herron3 and Haidari Nawabu4

Author Affiliations

1 School of Medicine, University of Leeds, UK, LS2 9JT

2 The Nuffield Centre for International Health & Development Leeds Institute of Health Sciences, University of Leeds, Charles Thackrah Building, 101 Clarendon Road, Leeds, UK, LS2 9LJ

3 Formerly of The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Plot 331, Kambarage Road Mikocheni A, P.O. Box 34441, Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania

4 The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Plot 331, Kambarage Road Mikocheni A, P.O. Box 34441, Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania

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BMC Public Health 2010, 10:407  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-10-407

Published: 12 July 2010

Abstract

Background

Genetically Modified (GM) crops have been championed as one possible method to improve food security and individual nutritional status in sub Saharan Africa. Understanding and acceptability of GM crop technology to farmers and consumers have not been assessed. We developed a qualitative research study involving farmers as both producers and consumers to gauge the understanding of GM crop technology, its acceptability, and identifying issues of concern.

Methods

Nineteen individual interviews (10 male and 9 female) and five mixed gender focus group discussions with local farmers were conducted in 3 regions in Tanzania. Analysis took place concurrently with data collection. Following initial interviews, subsequent questions were adjusted based on emerging themes.

Results

Understanding, awareness and knowledge of GM crop technology and terminology and its potential risks and benefits was very poor in all regions. Receptivity to the potential use of GM crops was, however, high. Respondents focused on the potential benefits of GM crops rather than any potential longer term health risks. A number of factors, most significantly field trial data, would influence farmers' decisions regarding the introduction of GM crop varieties into their farming practice. Understanding of the potential improved health provision possible by changes in agricultural practice and food-related decision making, and the health benefits of a diet containing essential vitamins, minerals and micronutrients is also poor in these communities.

Conclusion

This study forms a basis from which further research work can be undertaken. It is important to continue to assess opinions and attitudes of farmers and consumers in sub Saharan Africa towards potential use of GM technologies whilst highlighting the importance of the relationship between agriculture, health and development. This will allow people in the region to make accurate, informed decisions about whether they believe use of GM biotechnology is an appropriate way in which to tackle issues of food security, provide improved health and drive development.