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This article is part of the supplement: Fostering innovation through building trust: lessons from agricultural biotechnology partnerships in Africa

Open Access Open Badges Research

Strategies for building trust with farmers: the case of Bt maize in South Africa

Obidimma C Ezezika123*, Robin Lennox1 and Abdallah S Daar145

Author Affiliations

1 Sandra Rotman Centre, University Health Network and University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

2 African Centre for Innovation and Leadership Development, Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, Nigeria

3 Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada

4 Grand Challenges Canada

5 Dalla Lana School of Public Health and Department of Surgery, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada

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Agriculture & Food Security 2012, 1(Suppl 1):S3  doi:10.1186/2048-7010-1-S1-S3

Published: 1 November 2012



In 1999, South Africa became the first African country to approve commercial production of subsistence genetically modified (GM) maize. The introduction of GM crop technology is often met with skepticism by stakeholders including farmers. The involvement of the private sector in this process can further breed mistrust or misperceptions. To examine these issues more closely, the objective of this case study was to understand the role of trust in the public-private partnership (PPP) arrangement involved in the development of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) maize in South Africa.


We conducted semi-structured, face-to-face interviews to obtain stakeholders’ understanding of trust in general as well as in the context of agricultural biotechnology (agbiotech) PPPs. A thematic analysis of the interview transcripts, documents, reports and research articles was conducted to generate insights into the challenges to, and practices for, building trust among the partners and with the public.


The findings of this study are organized into four main lessons on trust building. First, as the end users of GM technology, farmers must be engaged from the start of the project through field demonstrations and educational activities. Second, an effective technology (i.e., the seed) is key to the success of an agbiotech PPP. Third, open communication and full disclosure between private sector companies and government regulatory bodies will build trust and facilitate the regulatory processes. Fourth, enforcing good agronomic practices, including appropriate management of the refuge areas, will serve the interests of both the farmers and the seed companies.


Trust has proven to be a critical factor determining the success of the Bt maize project in South Africa. Distrust of the private sector and of GM technology were cited as major barriers to building trust. The trust-building practices described in this case study have often served to overcome these barriers; however, erosion of trust was also present. The success of the project has been, and will continue to be, dependent upon the concerted effort of the farmers, government, and private sector players in the establishment and maintenance of trust.