GENET archive


POLICY & SCIENCE: What exactly did Kofi Annan say in Nairobi?

                                  PART 1

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SOURCE: Business Daily Africa, Kenya

AUTHOR: Bob Wayne Bell Jr.


DATE:   02.08.2007

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02-August-2007: Since Kofi Annan’s Press conference in Nairobi over two weeks ago, the GM (genetically modified) food debate has arisen once again.

As Chairman of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), Mr Annan’s statements reverberated around the globe through media reports suggesting that AGRA would not incorporate GM into their strategy for boosting agricultural productivity in Africa.

A couple of days after the Press conference, the US Committee on Foreign Affairs on Africa and Global Health in Washington even prodded its invited experts on Mr Annan’s comments.

Though the Kenyan journalists felt they well-represented Mr Annan, AGRA and others thought that he and AGRA had been misunderstood. Some thought AGRA would never incorporate GM technologies into their strategy while others thought Mr Annan was more nuanced in saying that GM technologies are not apart of AGRA’s ”initial strategy.”

The Business Daily, relying on official Press conference footage from Nation TV, has endeavoured to produce Mr Annan’s statements on the matter in the corresponding box.

But if GM technologies were not part of the first phase of AGRA’s work, then the alliance was not clear on when GM technologies would be incorporated, if ever. These were some of the questions many across the world were pondering.

With the tension between GM proponents, opponents, and those in between fomenting, AGRA released a ”Statement on Plant Breeding and Genetic Engineering” to clear up the controversial issue.

They stressed that AGRA was not against the use of genetically modified crops, but was focusing on conventional methods because it could generate quick successes and fits within the regulatory framework of African countries.

In response to AGRA’s statement, organisations that support the use of GM technologies in African agriculture issued a response welcoming the clarification. For them, and many others, it seemed strange that the Rockefeller and Gates Foundations, who have and currently support GM technologies in other initiatives and institutions, would be against the use of genetically modified crops in Africa.

Did the journalists get it wrong? Or did AGRA shift its position to appease the various pro-and-anti-GM crowds?

The truth is probably somewhere in between these two extremes.

With respect to the media reports, Mr Annan appeared to send mixed messages. At the Press conference, he started by saying, ”AGRA is not using GMOs.” He also said, ”…let me assure you that we [AGRA] are not engaging in genetically modified food.” It is only later that he clarifies, ”But for the moment, we are only sticking to traditional methods.”

Although Mr Annan clarifies that ”traditional methods” may be employed solely ”for the moment,” he actually refers to GM technologies not being a part of AGRA’s strategy overall more than he does about them being a part of a phased effort.

His mixed messages allowed some of the journalists to walk away with the assumption that AGRA would not employ GM technologies .

With respect to AGRA, its position became more nuanced in the face of the media controversy. In AGRA’s original Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) they said, ”Introduction of genetically engineered crops is not part of the Alliance strategy.”

There was no delineation of time. However, the FAQ continues: ”At the same time, the Alliance will not shy away from considering the potential of bio-technology in reducing hunger and poverty. Currently, however, there is limited capacity among African plant breeders, and it is best used in pursuit of conventionally developed crop varieties.” It was not clear what ”considering” actually meant.

Later in their ”Statement on Plant Breeding and Genetic Engineering,” they noted, ”The Alliance is not at this time funding the development of new varieties through the use of genetic engineering.”

AGRA this time made sure they denoted time in the development of their strategy.

Could Mr Annan’s perceived ambiguity and AGRA’s nuanced shifts in its statement be a part of an effort to pander to those for and against modern bio-technologies in Africa at the same time?

Dr Victor Konde, the co-ordinator and founder of Africa Technology Development Forum and an Economic Affairs Officer with the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, comments,

”Perhaps the conflicting position of many organisations reflect an attempt to satisfy partners, donors and African governments all of which do not share the same perceptions on GMOs.”

Maybe no one will know ever know whether AGRA was ever pressured into avoiding GM technologies by anti-GM environmentalist groups, simply saw GM as unfit for their ”current” strategy, or actually dealt with a combination of both realities.

But this controversy has reopened the annals of the GM debate and whether genetically modified technologies are a critical element in the battle for Africa’s food security. More than 11 experts, scholars, bio-technology scientists, economists, professors, government leaders, political scientists, and private sector officials spoke with the Business Daily about this debate.


Can Africa achieve food security without GMO’s?

Many of our respondents believe that Africa can achieve food security without GM crops, but stress that they should not be excluded from the overall strategy on fighting hunger

Dr Konde remarks: ”Yes, Africa can achieve food security without GMOs [genetically modified organisms], but should not ignore them. A green revolution that ignores GMOs is just as far fetched as one that is entirely based on them.”

Agriculture Permanent Secretary Romano Kiome adds: ”I believe that Africa can achieve food security without GMOs, but let us also accept the fact that they may contribute to the continent achieving the goal.”

Some believe that GMOs are either irrelevant for African farming systems or could distract the continent from a more integrated strategy for addressing food security.

Hans Herren, the director of the Millennium Institute in Washington says: ”Yes (Africa can achieve food security without GMOs) and it will probably even do better without the promises of a quick fix as many envisage with the use of GMOs.” Zeyaur Khan, the principal scientist and Programme Leader at ICIPE, doubts that GM technologies fit within the farming systems of poor African farmers.

Instead, African farmers should be relying on platform technologies like ”push-pull’” which are multi-dimensional and fit within their own farming systems.

Dr Florence Wambugu of the Africa Harvest Biotech Foundation International (AHBFI) believes that African countries, like others undergoing green revolutions, should employ all available technologies, both conventional and modern bio-technological tools.

She says, ”Africa must use all technologies to address the challenges facing agriculture.

It’s not an either/or situation… Africa Harvest’s view is that multiple-technologies will be required for the new Green Revolution in Africa. In the 1950s, the Green Revolution was a function of using the available technologies (then) to dramatically improve their agricultural productivity. Africa will need to use all technologies, and apply them appropriately, to achieve its Green Revolution.”

Others assert that if Africa fails to take advantage of the newest technologies available, the continent will be left behind in the global marketplace.

Sakiko Fukuda-Parr, Professor of International Affairs at The New School (New York USA) and editor of the recently published GM Crops and Unequal Development explains, ”My main concern with ruling out investment in GMOs in African agriculture is that African farmers will not be able to compete in world markets; importing rice, wheat and maize will be cheaper than producing sorghum, maize, cassava, plantains and other staples locally.

GM maize has increased productivity and reduced prices in the US and elsewhere; GM rice and wheat may be coming into the market in the foreseeable future.

African farmers need the most competitive technology and that may come from the use of GMOs. We wouldn’t know if that is the case until we try.” Prof Calestous Juma of the Practice of International Development at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and co-chair of the African Union High-Level Panel on Modern Bio-technology argues that a Green Revolution without the newest available technologies ”…is like saying Microsoft will help India develop its software industry but the company will only use COBOL and FORTRAN.”


Have other countries achieved food security without GMO’s?

With commercial GM technologies being available for slightly over a decade, the countries that underwent green revolutions did so without GM technology.

Dr Konde points to West Africa, which improved its food supply faster than Central, Eastern and Southern but behind North Africa. Egypt, for example, has virtually weaned itself out of food aid over the last four decades- from one of the largest recipients in the 1970/60s. None of these increases in food production can be attributed to seed technology alone, he says.

The experts echo the fact that GM technologies have not contributed thus far to a Green Revolution. However, Ms Fukuda Parr adds, ”But perhaps no country achieved food security without being able to produce food crops competitively in world, without high subsidies.”

The real question is whether conventional crops grown in Africa can compete with GM crops on the international market in the short and long term. Food security, according to her is not only a function of feeding oneself but being competitive in the global market.

Will GM rice and wheat from elsewhere, for example, depress the market price for African rice and wheat grown through conventional breeding?

Dr Wambugu says that while other developing countries with food security issues have aggressively pursued the new GM technologies (e.g., Iran, China, South Africa, Slovakia, Honduras and the Philippines), most African countries ”have been held back by confusion from the international debate, lack of bio-safety regulatory frameworks and a lack of infrastructure to effectively engage in the technology.”

She notes, ”To date, no African country that was food insecure in the 1990’s has achieved food security by 2007. In fact, African agriculture has been in steady decline.”

So the paradox is that GM technology was not necessary for a historical Green Revolution, but without GM technologies it may be harder for countries to achieve food security and compete in the global agricultural market as other countries employ newer technologies for production.

Is the GM debate all wrong? Is Africa’s infrastructure really the main hindrance to food security?

Most of our experts concur that food security is a complex issue in Africa, involving all forms of infrastructure, including markets, the entire value chain, roads, transport, storage, processing, shipping, packaging, irrigation, soil fertility, agricultural policies, research institutions, and other issues.

At the press conference, Mr Annan on behalf of AGRA said, ”If you take the Green Revolution in India, science played a role but the government, the then government, deserves a great deal of the credit by putting in infrastructure, coming in with the right agricultural policies, and this is what I’m expecting the African governments to do, and I will be working with them in this direction.”

David Nyameino, Chief Executive Officer of the Growers Association of Kenya remarks, ”Africa’s food insecurity is more than science, the current technologies in research stations are under-utilised due to other factors and if fully utilised Africa will definitely be food secure.

If these factors such as infrastructure, organised markets, farmers’ capacity to produce commercially, etc. are not addressed, the introduction of GMO’s will also be yet another technology on the selves.”

But what is undoubtedly obvious for Dr Wambugu is that in the absence of dramatic increases in agricultural productivity through the latest technologies, infrastructure investments alone will not achieve sustainable food security in Africa.

”Improving roads, upgrading produce markets or supplying farm equipment is of little effect if the farmer is unable to harvest more produce of better quality with less inputs and at a lower cost.”

What lessons can Africa and AGRA learn from the Green revolution that took place in other places?

Ms Parr points to the fact that the Green Revolution in other places was driven by the public sector, not the private sector.

She explains, ”The fact that GMO development has so far been dominated by global corporations has stigmatised this technology. Global corporations have used this technology for profit, not for food security, and so have targeted the needs of profitable crops in the US, not the needs of poor farmers in Africa.

GM technology for African food crops is a ’path not taken’ with the result that the potential of this technology to meet the needs of food security remains speculative, not even seriously considered.” Dr. Florence Wambugu believes, however, that with the appropriate policies and legislation to handle GM technologies, many small-scale farmers stand to benefit from it. Dr. Wambugu stresses that the Green Revolution ”highlights the importance of science and technology in initiating a ’quantum leap’ in agricultural productivity.”

How will the AGRA initiative be different from other efforts to achieve food security in Africa?

For Dr Herren and Dr Akoten, the AGRA initiative does not seem to be that different from the other initiatives established to achieve a Green Revolution in Africa.

Dr Herren comments, ”So far it just more if the same as what has been done in the past and has not worked… I believe that what is needed is a much more holistic approach to agriculture. We need to much better understand the wider system, look at where the KEY blockages are and devise a strategy that involves all parties concerned.”

But Dr Peter Matlon of AGRA thinks there is something special about this initiative that others have not done before.

Speaking at the Press conference with Mr Annan, he adds, ”There hasn’t been any program that has examined the entire supply chain for the key inputs. And we will be doing that very explicitly and in a very targeted fashion attack the constraints along the supply chain.”

                                  PART 2

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SOURCE: SciDev.Net, UK

AUTHOR: Michael Malakata


DATE:   03.08.2007

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[LUSAKA] The Zambian government has rejected a call made this week (30 July) by a group of scientific, agricultural and nongovernmental organisations to use genetically modified (GM) crops to reduce poverty and hunger.

The group — consisting of AfricaBio, the Africa Biotechnology Stakeholders Forum, Africa Harvest Biotech Foundation International, Biotechnology-Ecology Research and Outreach Consortium (BioEROC) and the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Application (ISAAA) — released a joint press statement endorsing the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which was published in the Times of Zambia on 30 July.

Responding to the statement, Zambian minister of agriculture and cooperatives, Ben Kapita, told SciDev.Net, ”We have always said that Zambia will not be used as a dumping place for GMO products.”

Earlier this year (3 April), the Zambian parliament adopted a biosafety bill aimed at preventing the entry of GMOs in to the country (see Zambia takes steps towards biosafety law).

But Wisdom Changadeya, executive director of BioEROC in Malawi said in a press release that nobody could deny Africa its right to a technology that would help its farmers solve some of its most serious and urgent problems.

Margaret Karembu, a researcher at the Kenya-based AfriCenter, run by the ISAAA, warned that African agricultural productivity could drop while the rest of the global community embraced new tools such as GM technology.

She said that African farmers should not be restricted to traditional methods of agriculture.

The same group of five organisations also welcomed a clarification from the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) about its stance on GM technology.

Last month, many media outlets reported that AGRA and its president the former UN secretary-general, Kofi Annan, had rejected the use of GMOs completely.

The reports came after a speech by Annan in Nairobi last month (16 July), in which he said that whatever the future potential of GM crops might be, conventional breeding represented an important path to food security (see Farmers and researchers: Annan urges stronger links).

AGRA has since clarified their position on GM technology, stating that although they are not currently funding research into GMOs, they support the use of science and technology — including GM — to aid African smallholder farmers.

Norah Olembo, chief executive officer of Africa Harvest Biotech Foundation International in Nairobi, Kenya, welcomed AGRA’s clarification that GM technology has an important role to play in fighting poverty, hunger and malnutrition.

But others believe that not researching GM technology at this stage could undermine the future of biotechnology in Africa.

This week (27 July) the Netherlands-based Public Research and Regulation Initiative wrote to Annan, saying they were concerned about AGRA’s focus on conventional plant breeding methods.



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