The South African smallholder GM maize experience has been—to date and internationally—the only example where a subsistence crop is produced by smallholder resource poor-farmers using GM seed. Their experience is thus of great interest, especially to African decision makers, international food and agricultural organizations, and the technology innovators. This article sheds light on eight years of research investigating the socio-economic impacts of GM maize adoption by smallholder farmers in South Africa. The main objective of the article is to highlight methodological and practical research challenges faced in this project in order to inform future socio-economic impact assessments and to contextualize research findings. Limited project findings are presented in the form of a discussion on the characteristics of early-adopting farmers and the yield impacts of GM maize adoption over the eight season period, emphasizing the variability between seasons and to show how methodological limitations impact research findings... Even though this study has limitations and the findings presented in this article are limited, it is possible to conclude that Hlabisa smallholder farmers highly value Bt and HT maize seed. Though seed availability might have played a role, by the final study season (2009/10), none of the farmers in the panel sample planted Bt, few still planted conventional maize, and the rest all planted HT or BR maize. Farmers seem to be willing to pay for the weed-control convenience; it appears as if farmers value the yield increase and (especially) the labor-saving benefit of HT maize more than the borer-control insurance of Bt maize. This inclination should be seen in the context of the relatively low borer pressure over the research period and the limited able-bodied labor force in rural KZN, caused by out-migration in search of employment, a high HIV/AIDS infection level, and elderly farmers. Future analyses and publications will focus on the labor-saving benefit of HT maize, potential expansion of production due to the decreased need for weeding labor, and gender implications of GM maize adoption and use.
Via Alexander J. Stein