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Special Feature: Genome Editing and the Future of Food in Africa

Joeva Sean Rock, University of Cambridge, UK
Matthew A. Schnurr, Dalhousie University, Canada

Ann Kingiri, African Centre for Technology Studies, Kenya

Recent advancements in genome editing have captured the attention of scientists, philanthropists, policy actors, and development professionals. Some have described genome editing as a tool to “unlock” the continent’s agricultural potential, advance production, and improve livelihoods (Mudziwapasi et al. 2018: 198; Li 2020). Indeed, advancements in plant breeding have long been considered to be the key to bringing a Green Revolution to African countries.

However, earlier generations of biotechnology, namely genetically modified (GM) crops, have so far produced only modest adoption rates across Africa, due in part to poor crop performance, mixed reactions from farmers, and institutional and technical challenges. These precedents suggest that larger analyses of the complex ecosystems in which genome editing, agriculture, and plant breeding are all embedded are essential for understanding the future of the technology.

To that end, however, relatively little is known about genome editing’s potential impact on African agricultural systems. Exceptions include reviews of the potential applications of genome editing to improve African staple crops, and commentaries by agronomists and economists calling for permissive regulatory structures. With some exceptions, the perspectives of social scientists – who underscore how important social criteria are in shaping research priorities, development trajectories, and technological outcomes – have mainly been absent within these discussions.

Our special feature seeks to intervene directly within this debate. Our collection of papers draw out lessons learned from the previous generation of genetically modified crops and agricultural interventions in Africa and use them to analyze the portfolio of gene edited crops being developed for African farmers.

The papers that make up this collection were first presented in May 2022 at a two-day workshop at Dalhousie University entitled “Gene Editing in Africa and its Alternatives.” The workshop was part of a larger research initiative, the GEAP3 Network, an international research consortium that explores key development events in gene editing and the implications on agriculture.


Li, E. (2020) Winning in Sub-Sahara Africa’s Agricultural Market: Agriculture, Poverty and the Role of Technology. Harvard International Review 41(1): 58-62.

Mudziwapasi, R., et al. (2018) Unlocking the Potential of CRISPR Technology for Improving Livelihoods in Africa. Biotechnology & Genetic Engineering Reviews, 34(2), 198-215.

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