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2-Plants: New Study Debunks Misconceptions About Biotech Crop Research in Africa



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

TITLE:  New Study Debunks Misconceptions About Biotech Crop Research in
        Africa
SOURCE: International Food Policy Research Institute
        http://www.ifpri.org/PRESSREL/2005/20050713.htm
DATE:   13 Jul 2005

------------------- archive: http://www.genet-info.org/ -------------------


New Study Debunks Misconceptions About Biotech Crop Research in Africa

Nairobi--Public institutions across Africa are conducting groundbreaking
research to produce genetically modified (GM) crops, according to a new
study by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

The new IFPRI study presents findings on the development of GM crops by
public research institutes in four African countries--Egypt, Kenya, South
Africa, and Zimbabwe. The first of its kind, this study assesses the
state of biotech crop research, the types of genes being used, and the
biosafety and regulatory challenges facing Africa.

According to the study, current biotech research has the potential to
reduce the use of pesticides, increase drought tolerance, and improve the
nutritional value of staple foods. These changes could benefit the
environment, improve health, reduce the cost of food, and increase the
incomes of poor smallholder farmers throughout Africa.

"Our study reveals the burgeoning role of public biotech crop research in
Africa," said Joel I. Cohen, IFPRI Senior Research Fellow and an author
of the study. "Corporations are often seen as the only drivers of GM
foods, but the reality is that a few African countries, despite their
limited financial and technical resources, have vibrant public biotech
research programs. This research often targets improvements of indigenous
plant varieties relevant for local use by small-scale farmers."

The study documents public biotech research on 20 different crops,
including maize, sweet potato, and cowpeas, and focuses on improving
resistance to diseases and pests which can devastate yields for farmers
in African countries. Nearly three quarters of the genetic materials used
in the study come from local plants, which are more suited for local
needs and growing conditions. However, most of the public research is
still in laboratory, greenhouse, or confined field trials. By contrast,
four commercial biotech crops developed by foreign companies are
available in South Africa.

"Unfortunately, most African countries lack the expertise, capacity, and
funding to develop and comply with biosafety regulatory requirements, and
these deficiencies have become more pronounced as they implement the
Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety," said Idah Sithole-Niang, Professor at
the University of Zimbabwe and lead author of the study. "As a result, GM
crops remain out of the hands of farmers and their benefits go unrealized."

While previous reports have examined biotech crop research in developing
countries, this study is the first to draw the connection between safety
and regulatory requirements and specific crops and genetic traits,
showing the policy implications of public research. This information will
be critical to policymakers for improving biosafety regulation and
ensuring safety.

"Most African countries, like many other poor countries, often cannot
advance GM crop research because their national policies or regulatory
systems are not prepared to deal with safety requirements for approving
general use," Cohen explained. "Researchers in African countries need to
work together to share information and expertise, and to dialogue with
policymakers as to when, where, and if restrictive biosafety policies are
needed. As poor countries develop stronger biosafety procedures, they
will be increasingly able to manage potential risks associated with GM crops."

The study recommends an increase in small-scale, confined field trials to
test crops, determine safety, and receive feedback from farmers. It also
stresses the need to provide decision-makers with science-based biosafety
information, so as to improve the clarity of regulatory policies and
procedures.

"This study provides critical information that could help bolster
Africa's public biotech research and regulation efforts, and potentially
improve the livelihoods of poor farmers and consumers," said Patricia
Zambrano, IFPRI Research Analyst and an author of the study. The study,
as well as fact sheets and graphs, are available at: http://
www.ifpri.org/media/20050707Afbiotech.asp


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

TITLE:  Research on engineered crops booms
SOURCE: Business Day, south Africa, by Tamar Kahn
        http://www.businessday.co.za/articles/article.aspx?ID=BD4A69352
DATE:   15 July 2005

------------------- archive: http://www.genet-info.org/ -------------------


Research on engineered crops booms

RESEARCH on genetically engineered crops is booming at public
institutions in SA and a handful of other African countries, according to
a new study by the Washington-based International Food Policy Research
Institute.

"Corporations are often seen as the only drivers of genetically
engineered foods, but the reality is that a few African countries,
despite their limited resources, have vibrant public biotechnology
research programmes," said institute researcher and study co-author Joel
Cohen.

The research body is funded by the Consultative Group on International
Agricultural Research, a group of 64 governments, private foundations,
and international and regional organisations.

The institute's study looked at the work being carried out by
universities and science councils on genetically engineered crops in
Kenya, Egypt, SA, and Zimbabwe. It also examined the "biosafety" laws in
place to govern research and commercialisation of these crops.

It found Egypt was researching the largest variety of crops (8), followed
by SA (7), Zimbabwe (3), and Kenya (2).

Scientists are exploring ways to make crops resistant to insects,
viruses, fungi and herbicides, or able to tolerate drought and salty soil.

"We were surprised to discover there was so much going on," said
institute researcher and study co-author Patrica Zambrano.

South African public sector scientists are researching new varieties of
genetically engineered maize, melon, millet, lupins, soy beans,
strawberries, sugar cane, cotton, apples, tomatoes, sorghum, wheat,
potatoes and grapes.

The study noted that most African public sector research on genetically
engineered crops was still at the early stages, and yet to be
commercialised. All such crops sold in SA (maize, cotton and soybeans),
for example, were developed by foreign companies.

Also, clearing these engineered crops through regulatory authorities was
expensive, the study said. For example, the projected cost of getting
virus-resistant potatoes through SA's legal system was about R5,5m.

"It's essential that we have public research as opposed to only
corporate, but in Africa it would be far better to pursue more relevant,
and proven, technology," said Glenn Ashton, spokesman for the
antigenetically modified lobby group SafeAge.

Kenyan researchers, for example, had found natural methods to control
weeds in maize fields that avoided the use of genetically engineered
varieties, he said. "It is really what Africa needs. And there are also
fundamental agricultural issues such as infrastructure and trade that
need to be addressed.

"It's not going to help one little bit when we can produce food more
cheaply if we then get flooded with cheap subsidised imports."

The researchers noted African countries were short of skilled personnel,
with potentially serious implications for regulation.


                                  PART III
-------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  AFRICA: Research into GM crops critical to ending hunger - IFPRI
SOURCE: IRIN News
        http://www.irinnews.org/report.asp?
ReportID=48134&SelectRegion=Africa&SelectCountry=AFRICA
DATE:   15 Jul 2005

------------------- archive: http://www.genet-info.org/ -------------------


AFRICA: Research into GM crops critical to ending hunger - IFPRI

NAIROBI, 15 Jul 2005 (IRIN) - Research into genetically modified (GM)
crops is crucial to improving food security and reducing poverty in
Africa, according to the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

"Food security is of serious concern to the African continent and public
sector research into GM foods is of direct importance to the smallholder
farmers, who need something both to eat and to sell," said Joel Cohen,
IFPRI senior research fellow, at a media briefing on Thursday on biotech
crop research in Nairobi, Kenya.

"Current biotech research has the potential to reduce the use of
pesticides, increase drought tolerance and improve the nutritional value
of staple foods," IFPRI said in a statement on Wednesday.

Cohen, who was presenting the findings of a study on the development of
GM crops by public research institutes in Egypt, Kenya, South Africa and
Zimbabwe, stressed that despite the common view that corporations drove
the GM food agenda, a few African countries had vibrant public biotech
research programmes.

IFPRI said improvements in crops brought about by public biotech research
could "benefit the environment, improve health, reduce the cost of food
and increase the incomes of poor smallholder farmers throughout Africa".

According to the organisation, a 10 percent increase in the level of
agricultural productivity was associated with a 7.2 percent reduction in
poverty.

Cohen said research into GM crops by African governments often targeted
the improvement of indigenous plant varieties relevant to local use by
small-scale farmers.

Kenya, for example, was engaged in public biotech research into producing
drought-resistant maize; Uganda was involved in researching insect-
resistant bananas.

He emphasised the importance of GM research in Africa reaching a stage
where it could help the farmers, noting that "if the research stays in
the lab, there will be no benefit to the farmers".

However, the introduction of GM seeds into African soil and GM crops into
indigenous markets is an issue that remains extremely contentious;
critics have argued that biotechnology is not the solution to Africa's
poverty and hunger.

"We have not exploited research into conventional seeds enough," Angela
Wauye, officer in charge of food security at Action Aid Kenya, told IRIN.
"In Kenya, we are not ready to handle GM crops - we do not even have a
biosafety bill in place."

Cohen stressed that the agency was interested in "biosafety first",
saying all plants produced by the various public biotech research
institutes were submitted for review to the relevant national biosafety
channels and regulatory bodies.

"We must address the real reasons our agricultural sector is performing
so dismally," Wauye said. "Poor farmers must be empowered by the
government to be able to access credit, cheaper farm inputs and better
infrastructure."

She pointed out that "because of poor roads, transporting crops from
Marsabit [northern Kenya] to [the eastern Kenyan port of] Mombasa is more
expensive than transporting the goods from Mombasa to Europe."

Wauye also said not enough was known about the effects of GM crops on the
environment and on human health. "We may not have seen any effects of GM
crops so far, but more research needs to be done into their side effects
over prolonged periods."

Although research was a very important component of the struggle to end
hunger, Wauye noted that it was important to focus the research on issues
that were relevant to Africa.

"The research must be driven by national needs - we must be our own
agenda-setters," she added.


                                  PART IV
-------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  Africa Urged to Use Biotechnology to End Hunger
SOURCE: This Day, Nigeria, by Crusoe Osagie
        http://www.thisdayonline.com/nview.php?id=22913
DATE:   18 Jul 2005

------------------- archive: http://www.genet-info.org/ -------------------


Africa Urged to Use Biotechnology to End Hunger

The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) has called on
Africa to use the advantages inherent in Biotechnology to bring and end
to the endemic problems of Hunger and poverty in the continent.

A statement from the organisation explained that Research into
genetically modified (GM) crops is crucial to improving food security and
reducing poverty in Africa.

"Food security is of serious concern to the African continent and public
sector research into GM foods is of direct importance to the smallholder
farmers, who need something both to eat and to sell,"

"Current biotech research has the potential to reduce the use of
pesticides, increase drought tolerance and improve the nutritional value
of staple foods," IFPRI said in the statement

The statement, which was based on the findings of a study on the
development of GM crops by public research institutes in Egypt, Kenya,
South Africa and Zimbabwe, stressed that despite the common view that
corporations drove the GM food agenda, a few African countries had
vibrant public biotech research programmes.

IFPRI said improvements in crops brought about by public biotech research
could "benefit the environment, improve health, reduce the cost of food
and increase the incomes of poor smallholder farmers throughout Africa".
According to the organisation, a 10 percent increase in the level of
agricultural productivity was associated with a 7.2 percent reduction in
poverty.

Cohen said research into GM crops by African governments often targeted
the improvement of indigenous plant varieties relevant to local use by
small-scale farmers. Kenya, for example, was engaged in public biotech
research into producing drought-resistant maize; Uganda was involved in
researching insect-resistant bananas.

He emphasised the importance of GM research in Africa reaching a stage
where it could help the farmers, noting that "if the research stays in
the lab, there will be no benefit to the farmers". However, the
introduction of GM seeds into African soil and GM crops into indigenous
markets is an issue that remains extremely contentious; critics have
argued that biotechnology is not the solution to Africa's poverty and hunger.

"We have not exploited research into conventional seeds enough," Angela
Wauye, officer in charge of food security at Action Aid Kenya, told IRIN.
"In Kenya, we are not ready to handle GM crops - we do not even have a
biosafety bill in place."

Cohen stressed that the agency was interested in "biosafety first",
saying all plants produced by the various public biotech research
institutes were submitted for review to the relevant national biosafety
channels and regulatory bodies.

"We must address the real reasons our agricultural sector is performing
so dismally," Wauye said. "Poor farmers must be empowered by the
government to be able to access credit, cheaper farm inputs and better
infrastructure."

She pointed out that "because of poor roads, transporting crops from
Marsabit [northern Kenya] to [the eastern Kenyan port of] Mombasa is more
expensive than transporting the goods from Mombasa to Europe."

Wauye also said not enough was known about the effects of GM crops on the
environment and on human health. "We may not have seen any effects of GM
crops so far, but more research needs to be done into their side effects
over prolonged periods."

Although research was a very important component of the struggle to end
hunger, Wauye noted that it was important to focus the research on issues
that were relevant to Africa. "The research must be driven by national
needs - we must be our own agenda-setters," she added.




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