GENET archive


POLICY & SCIENCE: Comment: Planting seeds of green revolution

                                  PART 1

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SOURCE: Business Daily Africa, Kenya

AUTHOR: Jane Ininda


DATE:   20.07.2007

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Ininda is a plant breeder and programme officer with  Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa

20-July-2007: Last Saturday, as I stood with Kofi Annan in the field of Mr. Pharis Wekesa, a farmer in western Kenya, and examined an experimental variety of maize bred to increase the productivity of small-scale farmers, it struck me that we do indeed stand on the threshold of enormous changes for Africa’s poorest farmers.

These changes promise to dramatically increase their productivity, their incomes and their options.

This is the goal of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, a new organisation whose board is chaired by Kofi Annan. His visit sparked widespread interest, not only in the rural areas, but also among the media and all sectors of society committed to ending the chronic poverty experienced by more than 200 million Africans.

It also sparked debate about how to best accomplish this goal, including debate around the issue of genetically engineered crops (GMOs).

I am a plant breeder and programme officer for the Alliance, and the views of our Chair and our organisation on this question are quite straightforward, although perhaps unlikely to satisfy those who are either for or against GMOs.

As Mr Annan said, the Alliance strongly believes that the application of science and technology—in everything from field-based soil ecology to cyberspace-based market information systems--is essential to improving the productivity of Africa’s small-scale farmers.

Today, an important Alliance initiative is developing new crop varieties that better withstand pests and disease, and cope with marginal soils and drought, and dramatically increase farmers’ yields. Such robust new varieties are absolutely key to raising farm productivity.

To develop these varieties, the Alliance is funding conventional plant breeding approaches. As Mr. Annan said, we are not at this time funding development of new varieties through the use of genetic engineering.

We have chosen to focus on conventional breeding techniques at this point because we know that they can produce significant benefits in the near term and at relatively low cost. Until now, conventional plant breeding—which can be very technologically sophisticated--has not received sufficient attention or investment in Africa. Thus, its potential remains largely untapped, along with the inherent genetic potential of African crop varieties.

Furthermore, conventional breeding is highly practical. It makes the best use of current scientific capacity and fits within existing regulatory frameworks, enabling relatively rapid dissemination to farmers of the new varieties they desire.

Therefore, conventional breeding is the starting point of Alliance efforts to develop improved seeds, precisely because our goal is to begin making a difference now. However, we also know that science is continually evolving, as is society and scientific capacity.

We do not preclude the use of crop genetic engineering in the future if that is the most appropriate tool to address the needs of small scale farmers and if African governments endorse its use.

We believe it is up to governments, in partnership with broader society, to use the best scientific knowledge available to put in place policies and regulations that will guide the safe development and use of new technologies, as Kenya and other African countries are doing.

Our mission is to use the wide variety of tools and techniques available now in Africa to make a difference for our farmers. Our mission is not to advocate for or against GMOs.

To those who would reduce the problem of hunger in Africa to a question of ”yes” or ”no” to GMOs, we believe they are at best missing the point, and at worst creating a distraction from the range of concrete actions urgently needed to solve one the most critical humanitarian problems of our time. We cannot wait to end poverty and hunger.

Our farmers cannot wait. We are getting to work.

                                  PART 2

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SOURCE: Daily Nation, Kenya

AUTHOR: Florence Wambugu


DATE:   20.07.2007

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Dr Wambugu is the chief executive officer of Africa Harvest Biotech Foundation International

THE UNITED NATIONS University and the UN Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) last week appointed Nairobi a regional centre of expertise on education and sustainable development.

Nairobi becomes the first city in Africa to get such an award, joining 35 other global cities.

It adds to the many feathers the country already has as home to international science organisations such as Unep, the International Centre for Research in Agroforestry (Icraf), the International Centre for Insect Physiology and Ecology (Icipe), the International Potato Centre, and the Nepad Bioscience Facility for Eastern and Central Africa.

If confirmation was needed that Kenya is a regional powerhouse in science and technology, then this honour does it.

On the other hand, although the debate on the Kenya Biosafety Bill is raising local temperatures, it also brings into sharp focus the country’s regional leadership in science and technology.

While we debate various sections of the Bill, we should note that countries in the region are looking to us to provide a strong regional position on agricultural research and development.

With or without such a policy, Kenya and the region will be affected by global trends in biotechnology, and we need legislation to support the import, production and export of biotech products.

Although different views have been, and will be, expressed about the Bill, there is consensus that science and technology are key ingredients for national and regional economic competitiveness.

While pursuing scientific and technological enquiry, few can dispute that sustainable development must be the cornerstone of the search for new solutions to man’s challenges.

Kenyans are yet to fully appreciate that knowledge generation by institutions devoted to science, research and technical innovations is the bedrock of a modern knowledge economy. As we approach the elections in December, debate is likely to revolve around economics and politics. However, to achieve the goals so well-articulated in Vision 2030, science and technology must be given due recognition and integrated in the structure of our economy.

The Government deserves praise for publishing ”Developing Kenya’s Biotechnology Policy”, which is a precursor to the Kenya Biosafety Bill.

The two documents are an acknowledgment that genetic modification technology — like many other technologies — will continue to affect national and regional agricultural research.

Being the most advanced East African country in biotech research, the country has a regional mandate to ensure the best policies and laws are in place.


INCREASINGLY, THE REGION appreciates the inter-dependence that already exists. Even in non-biotech activities, such as the importation of, say, tissue culture bananas, the need for common phyto-sanitary standards is well acknowledged. It is far easier for diseased bananas to enter Kenya from Uganda than, say, India.

For this reason, while each country should seek to optimise agricultural and other technologies, we need to increasingly see ourselves as East Africans.

Kenya must come up with a biotechnology legislation that paves the way for regional regulatory framework. The Bill must also be in harmony with existing international instruments like the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (2000), the WTO Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phyto-sanitary Measures (1995), the WTO Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (1994), the International Plant Protection Convention (1997), and the Aarhus Convention (1998).

These international frameworks can help East African countries establish appropriate regulatory structures that deal with potential concerns.

Thinking regionally and internationally will provide the basis for future harmonisation of national regulations for crops, livestock, fish, forest trees, and micro-organisms, while meeting international obligations.

Work towards such harmonisation can only move forward through inter-sectoral collaboration at national and regional levels, and would require support from several international organisations, regional bodies, regional centres of excellence and related agencies.

This calls for dialogue on choices for the region. Harmonisation measures and quality legislation will lead to improvement in the quality of agricultural produce and make the region an agricultural powerhouse and encourage more fresh produce exports to global markets.

While there is need to protect Kenya’s investment in science and technology through national policy and legislation, it is important to understand that the country’s leadership position requires carrying other countries along.

As host to the meeting at which the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety was opened for signature in 2000, Kenya was the first country to sign up. The country ratified the Protocol in 2003 and the Biosafety Bill was drafted in 2005 and published this year to bring Kenya’s law and practice in line with the protocol.

Though a step in the right direction, let us not forget that our future is intricately tied to that of our brothers and sisters in the region.



European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering

Hartmut MEYER (Mr)

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