Bayer commits to invest €5 billion to develop better herbicides

Attacked from all sides1 since it bought Monsanto in 2018 - the American company that created the controversial herbicide Roundup -, the German pharmaceutical and agrochemical company Bayer announced on Friday 14 June a €5 billion investment plan to develop new phytosanitary solutions that are more environmentally and health friendly. It remains to be seen whether Africa will benefit from this.

1 A Californian jury sentenced the German group, owner of the Roundup, to pay more than $2 billion in damages to a couple claiming that the herbicide was the cause of their cancer in May.

To restore an image tarnished by the controversy surrounding Roundup - a glyphosate-based herbicide accused of causing cancer and now owned by it - the German group in Leverkusen (north-west Germany), with its new generation of weedkillers, aims to « reduce the environmental impact by 30% by 2030 ». An objective that the company’s press release seeks to achieve in line with its « enhanced responsibility and unique potential to advance agriculture for the benefit of society and the planet ». Nothing less.

But far from signing the final shutdown of Roundup, Bayer points out that « glyphosate will continue to play an important role in agriculture and in the[Bayer’s] portfolio, as the company[is] determined to offer farmers more choice ». In Africa, glyphosate, which fell into the public domain in 2000, and is therefore cheaper than other phytosanitary solutions, continues to be used extensively in agriculture. Especially in South Africa, the continent’s leading agricultural power. A situation that is not likely to change any time soon: between often unsatisfactory national environments (weak regulation, porous borders, multiple non-patented generic pesticides, etc.) and the challenges of the century (demographic explosion, food self-sufficiency, scarcity of arable land), the attractive promise of « better yields at lower cost » should continue to have its appeal for a long time to come. And no matter what the risks involved.