Independent nonprofit biotechnology stakeholders association Africabio celebrated 20 years of genetically modified (GM) crops and other biotechnology at a dinner event in November, 2016, during which various role-players from government departments and private-sector farmers discussed the legacy of biotechnology in South Africa.
The use of biotechnology in the country has evolved since the first group of scientists started the South African Committee on Genetic Experimentation in 1978, which served to advise industry and government.
These scientists developed the first biosafety guidelines and assisted with the first approvals for field-testing GM crops. The Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) Act was drafted in 1995 and 1996, approved by Parliament in 1997, and implemented in 1999 when the GMO regulations were approved.
The first sequencing of an organism in Africa was done by South African scientists on the livestock heartwater parasite.
Currently, South African scientists interact and collaborate with their international biotechnology counterparts, which assists in conducting research into genomics and related matters to further knowledge of biotechnology.
However, home-grown GMO crop innovations are yet to enter the commercial market, partly owing to the cost of obtaining regulatory approval, including novel promoters, drought-tolerant genes, maize streak virus resistance and a range of experimental GM sugar cane events. An event is the result of successfully incorporating foreign genes into transgenic plants.