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2-Plants: GMOs not answer to poverty/hunger in Africa

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TITLE:  GMOs Not Answer to Poverty/Hunger in Africa - New Study
SOURCE: Third World Network-Africa, Ghana, by Cornelius Adedze
DATE:   Jun 20, 2003

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GMOs not answer to poverty/hunger in Africa - New study

A new study released by Third World Network-Africa (
offers new evidence against claims of the miracle potential of
genetically modified crops for dealing with famine and poverty in Africa.
After examining the impact of three genetically modified crops, sweet
potato, maize and Bt cotton, on poverty alleviation in Africa it
concluded that biotechnology does not address the real causes of poverty
and hunger in Africa. Indeed it shows that biotechnology is an
inappropriate method of agricultural innovation for poverty alleviation.

The global controversy about GM crops swept across Africa late last year
when famine-hit Zambia and some other southern African countries rejected
GM grain on health, ecologically and other grounds in the face of intense
pressure from the USA. Only last month US President George Bush threw his
weight behind his country's biotechnology industry by repeating their
claims that GM crops held the key to solving Africa's famine and poverty.
He also accused European nations of "impeding" US efforts to reduce
hunger in Africa by opposing the use of GM crops.

The new study titled "Genetically Modified Crops and Sustainable Poverty
Alleviation in Sub-Saharan Africa: An Assessment of Current Evidence", by
Aaron deGrassi, of the Institute of Development Studies, University of
Sussex, UK, assessed experience with genetically modified sweet potato
and maize in Kenya as well as Bt cotton in South Africa.

It study focused on, 'examining the current potential of those
genetically modified crops that, according to proponents of genetic
engineering, hold the most promise for alleviating hunger, poverty and
environmental degradation in Sub-Saharan Africa' and concluded that the
answer to Africa's poverty and food shortage problems does not lie in

The findings reveal that GM crops do not offer any answers to soil
fertility, resistance to genes by pests among other problems faced by the
farmers of the three crops. It also clear that biotechnology is not the
answer to corruption, declining commodity prices, inequality in land
distribution and ownership, income disparities, and armed conflicts which
are some of the major cause of poverty/hunger in Africa.

deGrassi puts the three crops to five widely accepted criteria for
evaluating conventional crop breeding, namely, demand-led, site-specific,
poverty-focussed, cost-effective and environmentally and institutionally
sustainable tests. From all these tests it came out that the innovations
fail totally as the study found out that the specific needs of the poor
farmer were not taken into consideration nor were the farmers consulted.
Again they fail the other criteria tests because they are not cost
effective, environmentally friendly and generally unsustainable. The
result being that the agro-ecological and socio-economic conditions of
the farmers were not taken into consideration but rather the commercial
interests of such biotech companies as Monsanto and Syngenta which
support the projects with a view to taking hold of the seed market in Africa.

The anticipated maximum national increases, according to the researchers,
in sweet potato production in Kenya, (18%), cotton production in South
Africa, (27%), and maize production in Kenya, (13%) also shows a negative
rate of return when one considers the amounts pumped into the projects.
Natural conventional crop breeding methods which cost much less and
produce better results have failed to attract attention from both African
governments and ever willing biotech companies like Monsanto and Syngenta.

More alarming also is the amount of money earmarked for these crop
innovations when cotton and sweet potato are not major crops in Africa or
in the areas where the innovations were carried out and thus will not in
any way solve Africa's poverty/hunger problems. Meanwhile the GM sweet
potato introduced in Kenya does not address the major problems farmers
have with the crop, which is weevils. With maize, the Bt maize introduced
does do away with the specific stem borer that affects maize in Kenya. In
the same way, the Bt cotton introduced in South Africa is meant to resist
the American bollworm whereas in South Africa it is the pink bollworm
that affects cotton production.

On the basis of all this evidence Genetically Modified Crops and
Sustainable Poverty Alleviation in Sub-Saharan Africa concludes that,
'genetic modification may constitute a novel tool but it is a relatively
ineffective and expensive one in Africa,' and supports the call by a
South African commentator that, 'There are better ways to feed Africa
than GM crops.'

* Genetically Modified Crops and Sustainable Poverty Alleviation in Sub-
Saharan Africa: An Assessment of Current Evidence, by Aaron deGrassi is
available on


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