GENET archive


9-Misc: Biotech industry and the U.S. push biotech in Africa

genet-news mailing list

                                  PART I
-------------------------------- GENET-news --------------------------------

TITLE:  Agbiotech climbs Africa's agenda
SOURCE: Nature Biotechnology, Volume 21 (6): 589, by Jeffrey L. Fox
DATE:   June 2003

------------------ archive: ------------------

Agbiotech climbs Africa's agenda

Washington, DC, USA - Renewed efforts to bring agricultural biotechnology
up to speed in sub-Saharan Africa are visible on several fronts these
days, and focus on establishing biosafety rules and providing access to
technologies. However, whether these efforts will overcome the complex
national and international political forces that have proved so
frustrating remains to be seen.

Speaking in Addis Ababa this April, K.Y. Amoako, the executive secretary
of the United Nations (UN) Economic Commission for Africa,
enthusiastically endorsed biotechnology, saying it was vital to improving
agriculture in Africa. In urging that biotechnology be tailored to meet
local needs, he also emphasized the importance of establishing "national
regulatory institutions for risk assessment and management." US State
Department (Washington, DC, USA) and US Agency for International
Development (USAID; Washington, DC, USA) officials also are speaking up
on behalf of biotechnology, saying it will help African farmers while
also bringing broader economic benefits.

Along similar lines, representatives from several African countries, US
biotechnology companies and the Rockefeller Foundation (New York, NY,
USA), with support from USAID, recently established the African
Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF; Washington, DC, USA) whose
mission is to help "smallholder farmers" in sub-Saharan Africa gain
access to new technologies. AATF will help to formulate licensing
agreements, including "royalty-free" transfers of proprietary
technologies that "meet the needs of resource-poor African farmers."

Meanwhile, several sub-Saharan countries are reviving homegrown efforts
to test and begin growing genetically modified (GM) crops. Zambia is
gearing up to test GM crops, even though its government made a stir last
year when officials rejected US food aid, citing concerns that GM corn
that was to be part of that aid package could interfere with food exports
to the country's European trading partners (Nat. Biotechnol. 21, 6,
2003). Similarly, the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (Nairobi,
Kenya) announced in April the launch of a five-year, $12.5 million
agbiotech program to develop, for example, a virus-resistant sweet potato
and livestock vaccines.

"The policy mission is to make Kenya a key participant in the
international biotechnology enterprise," says James Ochanda of the
African Biotechnology Stakeholders Federation (Nairobi, Kenya), referring
to regulatory developments. The Kenyan policy for handling GM crops
"identifies risk assessment and management as the cornerstone of the
biosafety regulatory system," he says, noting that these guidelines need
strengthening and the key institution needed to implement this framework
awaits funding.

However, John Kilama, president of the Global Bioscience Development
Institute (Wilmington, DE), sees the current incomplete status of
national-level regulatory frameworks, particularly concerning biosafety,
as a major stumbling block to successfully introducing biotechnology to
African agricultural practices, while noting that few sub-Saharan nations
have implemented draft rules, except for South Africa.

As part of Partnership for African Development, representatives from
South Africa and Nigeria will be developing a model law for other
countries to consider as a framework while still paying heed to issues
touching on national sovereignty, according to Jocelyn Webster, who heads
AfricaBio (Johannesburg, South Africa). That model law project will help
toward eventually harmonizing national regulations throughout the region.

Meanwhile, some sub-Saharan governments have ratified the United Nation's
international Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, which governs the
transfers of any GM organisms (Nat. Biotechnol. 18, 253, 2000), while
many more have signed it, including Tanzania and Cameroon this year,
Webster says. And Malawi recently passed its own biosafety legislation,
expects to have rules in place later this year and could begin conducting
field trials with GM cotton and corn by the end of 2003. Zimbabwe also
has regulations in place, although many other countries are still dealing
with draft legislation, says Webster. South Africa is way ahead, with a
regulatory system fully in place, several GM crops established and
hundreds of other biotech projects under way.

The "complex problem... of trade and politics" in the continuing tug-of-
war between the European Union and the United States over biotechnology
in agriculture is perhaps the biggest obstacle facing many of the
countries throughout sub-Saharan Africa, Kilama says. The unwillingness
of EU countries to import GM crops from their African trading partners
needs to be faced. "I'd like to be hopeful, but I'm a realist," he says,
suggesting that current enthusiasm about agricultural biotechnology for
Africa could soon face frustrations. "As long as Europe is the primary
trading partner for Africa, you just can't get around it."

"EU policies do have an effect on Africa," Webster says. And in some
cases, those GM-related policies are having a peculiar impact on
agricultural biotechnology within Africa, she adds. Namibia recently
decided not to import GM corn from South Africa to use as animal feed,
fearing that it would be commingled with non-GM feed used in growing
cattle destined for export to the EU. However, the EU itself is importing
Argentine-grown GM soy for use in animal feed, she points out. "None of
this makes sense."

                                  PART II
-------------------------------- GENET-news --------------------------------

TITLE:  Africa's Dilemma in Genetically Modified food War
SOURCE: The Monitor, Uganda, by Izama Angelo, Fredrick Masiga & Lynn Musiita
DATE:   May 29, 2003

------------------ archive: ------------------

Africa's Dilemma in Genetically Modified food War

Uganda and other African countries are increasingly finding themselves in
the crossfire between the US and the EU over Genetically Modified food (GM).

Recently, US Trade Secretary, ambassador Robert Zoellick announced that
13 countries including South Africa and Egypt have now taken the EU to
the World Trade Organisation asking it to break its five year moratorium
on the licensing of new GM products in Europe. Uganda was however not
named as one of the 13 countries.

The Monitor recently learnt the Uganda was formally requested to join the
trade war between the US and the EU over the GM agricultural products. As
result of this request, President Yoweri Museveni established a four-man
committee comprising the Attorney General, Francis Ayume, Minister of
Agriculture, Kisamba Mugerwa, Mr Patrick Rubweharo, and Dr Charles Mugoya
of the National Council of Science and Technology.

Whatever conclusions the council reaches, the stakes are high.

Mr Zoellick recently told a press conference that the EU's reluctance to
allow new GM products was scaring developing countries like Uganda from
adopting disease fighting, high-yielding crop varieties for fear that
they cannot export these crops to Europe.

"Uganda refused to grow a disease-resistant type of banana because of
fears that it would jeopardise exports to Europe," he said.

"The human costs of rejecting this agricultural technology without good
reason are enormous," Mr Zoellick said.

On Tuesday, the BBC quoted the US President Mr George Bush accusing the
EU of obstructing efforts to fight famine in Africa because of
"unfounded" fears over GM foods.

"Our partners in Europe have blocked all new bio-crops because of
unfounded, unscientific fears," Mr Bush was quoted as saying.

He accused European nations of "impeding" US efforts to reduce hunger in
Africa by opposing the use of GM crops.

"This has caused many African nations to avoid investing in bio-
technologies for fear that their products will be shut out of European
markets," Mr Bush said.

US seed companies are keen to sell their products to foreign market, but
have so far had limited success. Many Europeans fear long-term harm to
human health and the environment.

As the war of words between US and Europe continues, the US has been
knocking at the door of developing countries seeking support for their
case. Where does this leave Uganda?

Mr Richard Kimera, of the Uganda Consumer Protection Association said:
"This trade war between the US and Europe over genetically modified foods
is not a war for Uganda or Africa."

Mr Kimera described the "food politics", as a battle between economic
elephants oblivious of the interests of less developed nations. Uganda is
not the only African country concerned about bio-safety issues when it
comes to agricultural GM crops.

Zambia recently rejected US food aid amidst a humanitarian crisis because
of GM food fears.

Zambia banned the aid; saying it would rather go hungry than risk losing
its export markets in Europe because its crops had been contaminated with
GM seed.

Uganda's dilemma is to avoid getting caught between the powers when the
options she has are already heavily weighed against her and other
developing countries, according to Godbar Tumushabe of Advocates
Coalition for Development (ACODE).

He said government should not antagonise Europe, which is its biggest
donor and tradional partner.

One risk is that if developing countries like Uganda support the US
stance, they could find they are rewarded by US domestic farmers
producing cheaper produce in competition to them.

In their publication, "Rigid Rules and Double Standards. Trade,
globalisation and the fight against poverty" Oxfam International argues
that trade rules are rigged in favour of the rich countries.

"In their rhetoric, governments of rich countries constantly stress their
commitment to poverty reduction, but use trade policy to conduct acts of
robbery against the world's poor.

Those barriers cost developing countries $100 billion a year-twice as
much as they receive in aid" Oxfam says.

If developing countries increased their world share of trade by 5 percent
according to Oxfam, it would generate $350 billion, seven times what they
receive in aid.

Separately, even if Europe was to accept GM imports, Uganda has a long
way to go and millions of dollars to spend to achieve credible
environments for biosafety, one expert said.

According to Dr Cheryl French of the US Animal and Plant Health
Inspection Service (APHIS) in the US Department of Agriculture, Uganda is
where APHIS was ten years ago.


European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering

Hartmut MEYER (Mr)
Kleine Wiese 6
D - 38116 Braunschweig

phone:  +49-531-5168746
fax:    +49-531-5168747
mobile: +49-162-1054755
email:  genetnl(at)