GENET archive


POLICY & SCIENCE: Kenyan MP Oniang'o sees urgent need for food biotechnology in Africa

                                  PART 1

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SOURCE: Monsanto, USA

AUTHOR: Press Release


DATE:   23.07.2007

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"An ongoing campaign to persuade Kenyan farmers to grow genetically modified maize, cotton and other crops has the blessings of key public bodies, national research organisations and politicians and is bankrolled by giant biotechnology multinationals from the United States and elsewhere, investigations by The EastAfrican have revealed. [...] Members of Parliament have not been left out. The EastAfrican has reliably learnt that the entire process of drafting the Biosafety Bill (2005) was bankrolled by the external agencies affiliated to giant biotechnology multinationals who also organised an all-expenses paid trip for several MPs to South Africa early last year."

John Mbaria, The EastAfrican, 09.07.2007



Biotechnology Can Help Small-Scale Farmers Increase Food Production and Alleviate Hunger

ST. LOUIS, MO (July 23, 2007) —Twenty-five percent of the undernourished people in the developing world are located in sub-Saharan Africa; and according to FAO, approximately 35 percent of the population in 14 countries in the region are chronically undernourished. However, efforts to reduce hunger in this region have been hampered by a shortage of arable land, inadequate rainfall, low soil fertility and the devastating effects of plant pests and diseases.

”I’ve been saddened. I’ve gotten frustrated at the levels of hunger, levels of food insecurity on this continent, food crises one after another,” says The Honorable Ruth Oniang’o — a member of the Parliament of Kenya and Professor of Food Science and Nutrition at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology — in an exclusive video interview and podcast discussing the need for food biotechnology <> in Africa. ”We have not always been food insecure. I think what has happened is we have not kept up with the world events, with the technologies. … And I don’t know of any country, which developed without using science and technology.”

Increasing or intensifying food production is key to reducing hunger in sub-Saharan Africa, where 50-75 percent of the population and labor force is engaged in agriculture. ”And so I believe that it is incumbent on our government and on our scientists … to bring a technology, which can address a small-scale farmer,” says Oniang’o, who is also founder and executive director of Rural Outreach Program <> — a not-for-profit organization that undertakes development activities aimed at improving the livelihoods of the rural poor in Kenya, more than 55 percent of whom live below the poverty line.

”They need different kinds of information, and I believe that science has now come up with this technology — biotechnology. I’m not saying it’s going to be a magic bullet, but surely it should be one of the major approaches to use,” Oniang’o continues.

Using food biotechnology, researchers can provide protection against plant pests and diseases through seed — requiring small-scale farmers to use few — if any — additional inputs or machinery. ”And, we already have situations where we know this is working. In South Africa, I’m aware and I’ve been there — it is working,” continues Oniang’o. ”You know, when we’re hungry, we actually import maize from South Africa. So for us to sit here telling ourselves — oh, we don’t want biotech food, and … we can’t bring this to our farmers — it is not right.”

Biotech varieties of cotton, corn and soy are approved for commercial planting and account for approximately 92 percent of South Africa’s cotton, 29 percent of corn and 59 percent of soybeans. While South Africa is currently the only country with commercial plantings of food biotechnology crops, nine countries have conducted field trials in Africa including Burkina Faso, Egypt, Kenya, Morocco, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. An additional 11 countries are engaged in food biotechnology research and development.

”What I would like is to see a situation where families can feed themselves. … I believe we should start now. We can’t say we shall start in a decade, or next year. No, no, no. We need to start now,” explains Oniang’o.

In addition to this video with Dr. Oniang’o, visitors to the Conversations about Plant Biotechnology <> Web site can access comments from other renowned thought leaders including Nobel Peace Prize recipient and leader of the Green Revolution Dr. Norman Borlaug; Director of The Earth Institute and Director of the United Nations Millennium Project Dr. Jeffrey Sachs; 2001 World Food Prize Laureate Dr. Per Pinstrup-Andersen; as well as Chairman of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) Dr. Clive James. The personal experiences of farmers who grow crops developed through genetic engineering are also available — including conversations with African small-scale farmers from South Africa and Burkina Faso.

Conversations about Plant Biotechnology is designed to give a voice and a face to the farmers and families who grow GM crops <> and the experts who research and study the benefits of biotechnology in agriculture <> . The Web site contains nearly 60, two- to three-minute, extremely candid, straightforward and compelling video segments with the people who know the technology best. The Web site is hosted by Monsanto Company — a leading global provider of technology-based solutions and agricultural products that improve farm productivity and food quality.

                                  PART 2

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SOURCE: Business Day, South Africa

AUTHOR: Douglas Southgate


DATE:   25.07.2007

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Dr Southgate is a professor of agricultural economics at Ohio State University and member of the Sustainable Development Network, an international coalition of think-tanks.

WHEN the Green Revolution swept Asia after the mid-1960s with its high-yield seeds, fertilisers and other chemical inputs, and irrigation systems, hundreds of millions of people were saved from starvation. Africa cries out for such a revolution. The adoption of modern agricultural technology would go a long way towards helping the 200-million Africans who are malnourished.

Unfortunately, a coalition of environmental nongovernmental organisations , politicians and advocacy groups are conspiring to keep this nothing more than a pipe dream.

The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa was established by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with the objective of improving agriculture in Africa, but its head, former United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan, said last week: ”We in the alliance will not incorporate GMOs (genetically modified organisms) in our programmes. We shall work with farmers using traditional seeds known to them.” And Greenpeace claims that ”chemical pesticides, fertilisers and hybrid seeds have destroyed wildlife and crop diversity, poisoned people and ruined the soil.”

It is true that much environmental damage occurred in the same period as the Green Revolution. But it had entirely different causes. Consider water resources. When farmers irrigate wastefully it is because the managers of public systems charge practically nothing for water. Moreover, these managers often provide subsidised electricity to farmers to run their pumps. The result: depleted underground aquifers and dry streams. Bad policy also contributes to the misuse of chemicals. In India, nitrogen is subsidised; other fertilisers are not. This leads to unbalanced fertilisation, which diminishes crop output.

Modern agricultural practices have environmental benefits. Chemicals and genetically modified varieties enhance yields, enabling more food to be produced on less land. As a result, wild habitats are saved. Had the Green Revolution not come along when it did, we would now be discussing tropical deforestation in Asia exclusively in the past tense. Without yield growth, the continent’s farmers would have cultivated every square metre of ground in a futile struggle to keep up with exploding food demand, driven by expanding populations and higher incomes. No more forests would be left to cut down.

New technologies are bringing other environmental benefits. Genetically modified varieties resist insects, thereby reducing the amount of pesticide required. Herbicide-resistant crops diminish the need for ploughing, a significant cause of soil erosion.

These technologies are now commonplace in southern Asia. But farming practices have changed little in Africa since the 1960s, and crop yields remain abysmal. Since human numbers are rising fast in many parts of the continent, agriculture is putting pressure on forests and other habitats. A Green Revolution could solve this problem.

Opponents of agricultural technology claim that small farmers lose when improved ways are found to produce food. While it is true that farmers who are slow to adopt cost-saving technology find themselves at a competitive disadvantage, small farmers during the Asian Green Revolution generally switched to improved varieties of rice and wheat and new agricultural practices at the same pace as other growers.

Nor is it true that multinational corporations are the only winners from new technologies. The reality is that the poor benefit more than anyone else, mainly because agricultural development makes food cheaper.

In any sector of the economy, including agriculture, technological change always increases the supply, which lowers prices. If consumption is not very responsive to price changes, as is the case in most food markets, the main impact of supply growth is a sharp decline in prices. Consumers are thus the main beneficiaries of agricultural development.

The biggest winner from cheaper food prices is the poorest segment of the rural population: landless people in the countryside, who subsist mainly by working occasionally on other people’s farms. Small producers also gain, since most of them are net buyers of food. As food grows cheaper for these groups and the urban poor, diets improve and the threat of hunger and disease recedes.

Taking into account these and other benefits of agricultural development, the greatest myth propagated by antitechnology groups is that they represent the best interests of the African poor. Much of the world long ago moved away from traditional farming practices, and is significantly better off as a result. It’s high time for Africa to have its own Green Revolution.

                                  PART 3

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SOURCE: Business Daily Africa, Kenya

AUTHOR: Comment, by Calestous Juma


DATE:   20.07.2007

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Prof. Juma teaches at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government where he directs the Science, Technology and Globalization Project. He is also co-chair of the African Union High-Level Panel on Modern Biotechnology

20-July-2007: Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan always said he would become a farmer after leaving office. But one of his first acts as chairman of the Alliance for the Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) has been to respond to whether the alliance would promote the use of genetically-modified (GM) seed in African agriculture.

One of the most critical aspects of innovation policy is balancing between the expected benefits or new technologies and their unintended negative consequences.

Nowhere is this so vividly expressed as the debate over agricultural biotechnology. Arguments against the use of biotechnology in African agriculture have been conducted with unprecedented ferocity.

While critics of agricultural biotechnology claim to act on behalf of Africa’s interests, they are undermining the continent’s capacity to acquire the technological capacity needed to meet its agricultural and economic needs.

There are genuine concerns about the safety of the products that need to be addressed. Indeed, most of them have been addressed. But the chorus that products must be proven safe before they are introduced in the market is hardly used in the European countries that perpetrated the campaign.

In fact, to demand this is to try to outplay God since the future is unknowable.

Even God was not prescient of all that later transpired in the Garden of Eden. Using such a high standard of prescience not only defies logic (since one cannot prove a negative), but smacks of outright political arrogance.

Safety continues to be on the starting when debating the use of biotechnology in Africa. But the capacity needed to ensure safety is often derived from efforts to develop the technology itself.

Just like the capacity to manage the safety of swimming pools presupposes the existence of these facilities. It would be futile to go around introducing such safety laws in places with no swimming pools in the first place.

This is not to deny the importance of seeking to protect consumers and the environment against unintended harm. But this has to be balanced with the need to gain intended and unintended benefits from new products, which is done with most products.

By demanding prior knowledge of safety, Africa has been denied a chance to learn to use the technology and gain a better understanding of its negative impacts.

Advances in the safe use of biotechnology in South Africa, for example, show that safety measures co-evolve with the development of the technology. Safety without technology is empty; technology without safety folly.

Emptiness abounds in much of Africa’s biotechnology discussions today. Africa’s challenges are so grave that finding lasting solutions will require more creative use of existing technologies; not less as critics tend to argue. Areas with poor rainfall require more intensive land husbandry; not a fatalistic appeal to the vagaries of nature.

Africa must learn to stand its own ground and its leaders must show greater courage when matters crucial for the survival of their people are at stage. Caving in to external pressures is a poor substitute for taking charge of one’s future.

It is not too late to reclaim the ground lost to groups that have no moral standing to determine Africa’s destiny. Africa needs Kofi Annan’s support now.

                                  PART 4

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SOURCE: Kenya Times, Kenya

AUTHOR: Opinion, by Harrison Maganga


DATE:   25.07.2007

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The writer works with the African Centre for Technology Studies.

African countries, particularly those in the COMESA and the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa(ASARECA)regions, are in dilemma as to whether or not to permit introduction of Genetically Modified Organisms(GMOs).

The rapid development and diffusion of biotechnology,especially in genetic engineering, is happening at a time when the African continent is faced with daunting challenges including declining agricultural productivity and increasing poverty, leading to greater food insecurity and malnutrition. It has been asserted that several maize and cotton GMOs available now have the potential to increase productivity by lowering crop protection costs hence greater farm level incomes and less chemical use in the environment.

Conversely, concerns have been raised about the potential risks to the environment and human health from GMOs. There is scarcity of information on the specific costs or benefits the countries in the COMESA and ASARECA can achieve by adopting GMOs for agriculture versus opting to remain GM-free.

The vigorous debates in favour of and against biotechnology have by and large polarized African countries with their attitudes towards adoption of biotechnology ranging from cautious interest to downright rejection, depending on the country.

Kenya’s Minister for Agriculture, Kipruto Arap Kirwa, notes that attempts to introduce and implement agricultural biotechnologies have received varied reactions in third world countries. He argues that concerned authorities and stakeholders should weigh both potential benefits and risks by putting in place frameworks that address controversial concerns raised regarding the adoption of GMOs.

”It’s important that countries that decide to use GM crops develop clear biotechnology and biosafety policies and build adequate regulatory frameworks that address these issues to enable efficient and informed decision making,” Kirwa says Though multi-faceted, biotechnology has been viewed as a single discipline, weak scientific and technical capacity has been indicated as a major hindrance, compounded by the absence of operational and functional policies and regulatory regimes for GMOs in most of the countries.

In recent years, the implications of biotechnology for trade have also emerged as a major concern. It is feared that risks to potential or real commercial exports associated with planting of GMOs could be enormous. Concerns are growing that agricultural commodities exported from countries growing GMOs to destinations sensitive to GMOs such as the European Union may encounter market access barriers. Contrary, the cost of remaining GM-free and failing to harness the potential benefits of the technology may be very high for the COMESA and ASARECA countries. There is a likelihood of losing out on income gains at the farm level from increased agricultural productivity, and perhaps not enjoying adequate access to emergency food aid from organizations such as the World Food Programme (WFP).

”Nevertheless,” notes Dr. Isaac Minde, ”improving livelihoods and increasing agricultural productivity of those who now periodically become food aid recipients is vital.”

”Famine is a major challenge in sub-Saharan Africa. Constraints such as drought, lack of resources to purchase production inputs and lack of diversified food products are contributing to the region’s downward growth of agricultural production. Focus should be turned to biotechnology in both livestock husbandry and plant agriculture, as this has potential to increase crop yields.It also helps in addressing challenges associated with environmental degradation, help to detect and control animal diseases as well as promote the development of innovative food products,” notes Kirwa.

COMESA, the largest economic trading block in Africa comprising 20 member countries, is confronted with a formidable challenge of reconciling trade and biotechnology/biosafety developments. Regardless of nation’s position, when some countries go forward with commercializing GMOs and others do not, the region will become a patchwork of varied laws and regulations on GMOs. Even countries approving GMOs may have differing regulations and actual approved GM varieties may differ. Trade problems may then arise when countries have different regulations regarding the testing and approval procedures necessary to place GMOs and their products on the market or when they disagree with labeling and identification requirements. These conditions will pose critical challenges for the COMESA and ASARECA countries in terms of trade in specific commodities within the region.

Considering the current and anticipated challenges, efforts directed towards establishing a common policy on biotechnology and biosafety in the COMESA and ASARECA region have been set in motion. Mr. Erastus Mwencha, COMESA Secretary General, notes that his Secretariat has designed comprehensive agricultural sector strategic frameworks aimed at promoting the development of agriculture in the region.

ASARECA’s Eastern and Central Africa Programme for Agricultural Policy Analysis (ECAPAPA), the Program for Biosafety Systems (PBS) and the African Centre for Technology Studies (ACTS) are technically supporting COMESA, in the implementation of the project. The project idea originated from the COMESA community in 1997 based on concerns that the proliferation of GMOs may impact on trade and food security in unknown ways and that COMESA was not prepared to guide the region through the anticipated eventualities.

COMESA approached ASARECA in 2003, seeking technical guidance and policy advice on how to address biotechnology/biosafety issues at a regional level.

The project has been generating and analyzing technical information needed to inform COMESA and ASARECA on regional biotechnology and biosafety policy choices. It has had its main objective as undertaking stakeholder analysis in the ASARECA and COMESA countries to highlight opportunities and challenges related to their engagements in biotechnology and biosafety and estimating the impacts of GMO crops on farm income in the ASARECA and COMESA region.

Another aspect of the project has been to estimate the possible commercial export risks associated with approving the planting of GMO crops in the ASARECA and COMESA region and the impact of restrictive GMO policies on access to emergency food aid in the ASARECA and COMESA region.

The project also seeks to determine the impact of precautionary GMO policies on agricultural research in the ASARECA and COMESA region and review a range of regional policy options and common position towards GMO crops for the COMESA region.

For purposes of collection and analysis of technical data, six pilot case study countries: Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Egypt and Zambia were chosen to represent the broadest spectrum of development and attitudes towards GMOs in the region.

In each country, a national resource person has been recruited to facilitate data collection and mobilize stakeholders to participate in national policy dialogues.

                                  PART 5

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SOURCE: Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, Kenya

AUTHOR: Press Release


DATE:   20.07.2007

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The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa supports the use of science and technology—in everything from field-based soil ecology to cyberspace-based market information systems—to aid Africa’s smallholder farmers in their urgent efforts to end widespread poverty and hunger.

An important Alliance initiative is the development of new crop varieties that will withstand pests and disease; cope with drought, marginal soils and other environmental stresses; and dramatically increase farmers’ yields. Only with sustainable increases in farm productivity will smallholder farmers be able to feed themselves and their families, end widespread hunger, produce a marketable surplus, and stimulate economic growth.

Our goal is to develop 1000 new varieties as rapidly as possible, using conventional breeding and participatory methods in which plant breeders work closely with farmers to develop varieties with the traits farmers need.

The Alliance is not at this time funding the development of new varieties through the use of genetic engineering. We have chosen to focus on conventional breeding techniques—which can be quite technologically sophisticated—for two main reasons:

- We know that conventional methods of plant breeding can produce significant benefits in the near term at relatively low cost. Until now, however, conventional plant breeding has not received sufficient attention or investment in Africa, leaving untapped the inherent genetic potential available in African crops. With improved seeds produced through conventional breeding methods, plant scientists and farmers could readily raise average cereal yields from one tonne to two tonnes per hectare—making a major contribution toward ending hunger and poverty in Africa.

- Conventional crop breeding fits within the regulatory frameworks now in place in most African countries, enabling relatively rapid dissemination to farmers of the new varieties they desire.

Therefore, conventional breeding is our starting point. However, we also know that science and society are continually evolving. The Alliance itself will be funding initiatives that strengthen Africa’s scientific capacity at a number of levels. We do not preclude future funding for genetic engineering as an approach to crop variety improvement when it is the most appropriate tool to address an important need of small-scale farmers and when it is consistent with government policy.

Our mission is not to advocate for or against the use of genetic engineering. We believe it is up to governments, in partnership with their citizens, to use the best knowledge available to put in place policies and regulations that will guide the safe development and acceptable use of new technologies, as several African countries are in the process of doing. We will consider funding the development and deployment of such new technologies only after African governments have endorsed and provided for their safe use.

Our mission is to use the wide variety of tools and techniques available now to make a dramatic difference for Africa’s smallholder farmers as quickly as possible.



European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering

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