2-Plants: GM crops for Africa? No Thanks!
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TITLE: GM crops for Africa? No Thanks!
SOURCE: Institute for Sceince in Society, UK, Press Release
by Mariam Mayet, African Centre for Biosafety, South Africa
DATE: 4 Oct 2005
------------------ archive: http://www.genet-info.org/ ------------------
GM crops for Africa? No Thanks!
Mariam Mayet of the African Centre for Biosafety based in South Africa
exposes the machinations of USAID and other agencies to push GM crops
under the guise of biosafety capacity building
Africa in no hurry for GM crops
"Most African countries, like many other poor countries cannot advance GM
crop research because their national policies or regulatory systems are
not prepared to deal with safety requirement for approving general use."
Joel Cohen of the International Food Policy Research Institute based in
Washington DC was reported to have said .
Africa is in no hurry to introduce genetically modified (GM) crops. South
Africa remains isolated on the continent as the only country prepared to
take biosafety decisions on GMOs (genetically modified organisms) that
have resulted in their commercialisation. Over the last five years, only
eight other countries have conducted field trials of GM crops: Burkina
Faso, Egypt, Kenya, Morocco, Senegal, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe .
An unexpected turn of events has seen pro-GM Kenya decide to terminate GM
maize field trials launched as recently as May 2005 . Indeed, several
countries have imposed bans or other forms of restriction on the import,
distribution and commercial growing of GMOs  as part of a continent
wide response to the risks posed to human health, the environment and
traditional farming systems (see box).
Bans and restrictions imposed by African countries on GM imports
- Algeria introduced a ban on the import, distribution, commercialisation
and use of GM plant material in December 2000
- Angola introduced a ban on imports of unmilled GM food aid in April 2004
- Benin has taken measures to prevent imports of GM food aid, with a
moratorium on import of GMOs until national legislation comes into force
- Lesotho has permitted the distribution of non-milled GM food aid, with
a public warning that the grain should be consumed and not used for
- Malawi has had a ban on importing unmilled GM crops since 2002
- Mozambique's government is prepared to accept GM food aid provided that
maize is milled prior to distribution
- Namibian government rejected GM maize in 2002 and received wheat for
food aid instead
- Nigeria's government prepared to accept GM food aid provided maize is
milled prior to distribution
- Sudan banned the import of GM food aid during May 2003, but issued a
series of temporary waivers under pressure by the US
- Swaziland permitted the distribution of non-milled GM food aid, with a
public warning that the grain should be consumed and not used for cultivation
- Zambia refused to accept GM grain donated as food aid in 2002
- Zimbabwe is prepared to accept GM food aid provided the maize is milled
prior to distribution .
Independent scientific study documents failures
A recent study conducted by the Michigan State University concluded that
it may take up to 15 years to develop GM crops, create regulatory
frameworks, field test and deliver GM cultivars to smallholder farmers in
Africa. Their research is based on seven African GM case studies
including the spectacular failure of Kenya's GM sweet potato project and
the wildly premature acclaim of "success" of the Bt cotton smallholder in
South Africa. The study cautions that the "rise and decline of the Bt
cotton smallholder in that country should be carefully studied by other
nations where cotton field trials are underway" . It turns out that
the smallholders planting GM cotton in South Africa were given special
financial credit and preferential treatment in water resources. And even
then, they had to continue spraying for bollworm [6, 7].
GM crops promoted under the guise of capacity building for biosafety
Nevertheless, a frustrated pro-biotechnology alliance is re-doubling its
efforts to put pressure on key countries to finalise their biosafety
frameworks and laws in order to put GM crops into the African soil via a
whole array of biosafety projects. The most active players include USAID
(United States Agency for International Development) and the UNEP-GEF
(United Nations Environment Programme/Global Environmental Facility)
whose biosafety capacity building projects also appear to be providing
ample opportunities for foreign experts to unduly influence national
biosafety processes . This is borne out by our experience at the
African Centre for Biosafety in reviewing draft biosafety laws in Africa.
African Model Law on Biosafety
The African Union (AU) led on biosafety issues by developing the African
Model Law on Safety in Biotechnology ('African Model Law'). At its 74th
Ordinary Session convened in Lusaka, Zambia in July 2001, the AU Council
of Ministers endorsed the Model Law and urged member states to use the
Model Law to draft their own national legal instruments .
Adopting the African Model Law provides a unique opportunity for
governments in Africa to introduce national biosafety regulations that
adhere to a broader and unified continental framework and uses the
discretion given by the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety for countries to
adopt more protective measures than the minimum set out in the Biosafety
The provisions of the African Model Law are therefore far more
comprehensive than those required by the Biosafety Protocol and
acknowledge the importance of Africa as both a centre of origin and a
centre of diversity of food and other crops.
The Model Law also embraces the precautionary principle and recognises
the sovereign right of every country to require a rigorous risk
assessment of any GMO for any use before any decision is made. It
captures the essential elements for a liability and redress regime, which
should be incorporated into domestic biosafety legislation. Stricter
controls regarding the introduction and use of genetically modified food
as food aid can also be introduced through the Model Law .
An AU biosafety capacity building project designed to spearhead the
harmonisation of biosafety legislation between member states based on the
African Model law was conceived . But the project has been unduly
delayed for several years because of internal bureaucratic hurdles, with
the result that much ground has been lost.
Meanwhile, biotech industry lobby groups have lost no time in trying to
discredit the African Model law by deliberately misconstruing and
misrepresenting its provisions [12-14].
Attempts are now underway to revive this project, in order to promote the
African Model law across the continent.
USAID and biosafety laws in Africa
USAID is directly involved in at least two programmes designed to open
Africa to GMOs: the Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project II
(ABSPII)  and the Program for Biosafety Systems (PBS). The PBS has
been allocated $14.8 million to help countries in Africa and Asia develop
biosafety systems and to assist in biosafety decision-making , and is
co-ordinated by Washington D.C based International Food Policy Research
Ghana is part of a three-year PBS project. On 17 July 2005, the Minister
of Environment and Science Ms Christine Churcher launched Ghana's
National Biosafety Framework (NBF), including its Biosafety Bill. She
pointed out that Ghana is the first country in Africa to develop a NBF
under the UNEF/GEF's Biosafety Capacity Building Project, proving Ghana's
ability to ensure sustained use of modern biotechnology products and
Our analysis of the Biosafety Bill found that it is principally drafted
to permit the planting of GMOs in Ghana. Every attempt has been made to
ensure that human health is excluded from the enquiry. This same approach
was taken in the Tanzanian Biosafety Guidelines. There were also several
provisions reminiscent of the Swaziland Biosafety draft law crafted by a
New York based consultant.
The similarities include provisions dealing with confidential information
that will severely curtail the public's right to information; peculiar
language with respect to risk assessment that is not consistent with
biosafety parlance; and provisions dealing with exemptions that are vague
in law and science and confer too much unfettered decision-making power
to industry .
USAID has also started a three year project (2005-8) and will spend
another $2 million through its Office of Economic and Science Policy
(ESP) to provide biosafety regulatory assistance to several West African
countries that are part of the Economic Community of West Africa
(ECOWAS); in particular, Burkina Faso, Mali, Benin and Chad. This project
will provide much more "targeted assistance" by focussing on Bt cotton
field trials and GM food aid .
USAID does not miss any opportunity to weaken biosafety laws in Africa.
In March 2004, USAID submitted comments to the government of Zambia
brazenly proposing the insertion of a clause on the principle of
substantial equivalence into the draft biosafety law. Additionally, USAID
proposed procedures to enable approvals for several GM events in a single
application, in order to expedite the influx of GM food, thereby severely
undermining Zambia's precautionary approach to GMOs .
USAID also made extensive comments throughout the text of the draft
Zambian biosafety legislation, urging Zambia to use the specific wording
of the Biosafety Bill in regard to definitions, socio-economic impacts,
risk assessments, the precautionary principle and so forth; despite the
fact that the Biosafety Protocol allows Member States to take more
stringent and protective measures.
UNEP/GEF biosafety capacity building project: Undue influence?
The UNEP/GEF biosafety capacity building project provides funding,
technical and other support to numerous developing countries. We have
attended several of their workshops and have come to the following
conclusions about the project:
- It is structurally flawed because it has been designed primarily to
coax governments to establish merely a permissive rather than an
effective biosafety regulatory system and as such, is preoccupied with
- It focuses principally on the implementation of the Biosafety Protocol,
with the result that government officials run the risk of being misled
into believing that once they have implemented the minimum standards of
the Biosafety Protocol, their Biosafety Frameworks would thus be complete
- It makes use of inappropriate resource persons to address capacity
building workshops, including experts such as Ms Muffy Koch, a member of
Africabio and who is now employed by Agbios, Canada.
We have reviewed the draft biosafety laws of Kenya , Tanzania ,
Lesotho  and Swaziland  that all participated in the UNEP/GEF
Biosafety Capacity Building projects. The Kenya biosafety bill is merely
a rubber-stamping system designed to approve GM applications. Important
provisions of the Biosafety Protocol that form the cornerstones of
biosafety regulation had been entirely omitted from the Bill, including
the precautionary principle and public participation.
Tanzania is poised to begin field trials of Bt cotton in October 2005, in
the southern highland regions of Mbeya, Rukwa and Iringa , and has
opted for a set of voluntary, non-legally binding biosafety guidelines.
These place a great deal of emphasis on field trials, yet neglect to
provide for adequate regulation of commercial releases and imports of GMO
food, including food aid, feed and processing. The drafters also
neglected to make explicit reference to the precautionary principle in
Lesotho's Biosafety Bill has been drafted principally to implement the
Biosafety Protocol verbatim, and in so doing, perpetuates some of its
weaknesses and deficiencies. It is in fact littered with examples of
basic minimum standards and leaves no room for innovation. It makes no
attempt to provide for protection of biodiversity and human health.
With regard to the draft Biosafety Bill of Swaziland, it appears that the
New York based drafter took enormous liberties as numerous serious
discrepancies exist between Swaziland's Draft Policy and the Biosafety
Bill, which utterly ignores the safeguards set out in the Draft Policy
with respect to GM food aid. These include requirements that only milled
GM food be allowed; that the shipment be accompanied by a written
declaration guaranteeing that all events have been approved in the
country of origin and have not been contaminated by unapproved events,
edible vaccines or any such contaminants.
Winds of change
African governments also share some responsibility for bad biosafety laws
and for allowing external pressures to influence sovereign processes.
However, the lack of adequate biosafety capacity in Africa is widely
acknowledged as a major problem, making it easy for foreign 'technical
expertise' to be brought in and unduly influence the process.
Nevertheless, Africa has some biosafety expertise and capacity that
should be developed for national and regional biosafety processes.
African civil society is also becoming much more involved in the GM
debate. Consequently, external influences in the domestic regulatory
issues may be met with summary exposure and stiff resistance in the future.
The revival of the AU's biosafety capacity building project can go a long
way towards neutralising adverse political pressures. It has the very
real potential to put into place common environmental standards and
protective measures based on the precautionary principle and the African
Model Law. Such unified legislation would also protect Africa from abuse
by the powerful biotechnology industry looking for an experimental
facility and dumping ground for its products.
1 "GM crops can provide food security in Africa", Mail and Guardian, 19
2 GMOS in African Agriculture-Overview. February 2005
3 Govt stops research on maize Sunday Nation 28 August 2005.
4 GMOs in African Agriculture-Overview
5 Carl K. Eicher. Karim Maredia and Idah Sithole-Niang Staff Paper 2005-
08 June 2005, Department of Agricultural Economics, Michigan State University.
6 Biowatch South Africa. The Commercial Planting of Genetically
Engineered Crops in South Africa, 2003', unpublished document, Biowatch
SA, Cape Town, 2003.
7 Pschorn-Strauss E. Bt cotton and Small-scale Farmers in Makhathini - a
Story of Debt, Dependency and Dicey Economics, 2003,
8 Devlin Kuyek USAID: Making the World Hungry for GM Crops GRAIN Briefing 2005
9 Assembly of the Head of States and government Decision No. AHG/Dec. 164
Council of Ministers Decision No. CM/Dec. 623 July 2001.
10 Mariam Mayet Why Africa Should Adopt the African Model Law on Safety
in Biotechnology 2004
11 Promotion of the African Union on Biosafety Issues
12 Africabio's erroneous submission reads as follows ' The OAU Model
deviates significantly from the Protocol and extends well beyond its
provisions. ...Furthermore, the OAU Model includes human pharmaceutical
products which had specifically been excluded from the Protocol. No valid
reason was presented for extending the Model to pharmaceuticals.'
Africabio Submission on the OAU Model Law on Biosafety http://
13 Africabio's erroneous submission reads as follows 'Requiring all
information to be made available to the public (Art. 5) will stall all
import/export transactions while awaiting public consultation.' Africabio
Submission on the OAU Model Law on Biosafety
14 Africabio's erroneous submission reads as follows 'Engaging public
opinion on individual applications/transactions is impractical' Africabio
Submission on the OAU Model Law on Biosafety.
17 Ghana gets Biosafety Framework
18 Mayet M, Comments on Ghana's Biosafety Act, August 2005
19 Personal communication, July 2005.
20 Mayet M. Comments on the Zambian Draft Biosafety Framework, April 2004
21 Mayet M. Comments on the Kenya Biosafety Bill, June 2004
22 Mayet M. Comments On The National Biosafety Guidelines For Tanzania,
Third Draft, June 200, March 2005
23 Mayet M. Comments on Lesotho's Biosafety Bill, June 2005
24 Mayet M. Comments On: Draft National Policy Document: Creating An
Enabling Environment For The Safe Us Of Biotechnology And Its Products In
Swaziland And National Biosafety Bill, 2005, August 2005.
25 GM Crop Tests Get Green Light in Tanzania SciDiv. Net 28 February 2005
European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering
Hartmut MEYER (Mr)
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