GENET archive


SCIENCE & POLICY: African biotech organizations welcome AGRA clarification on biotech research

                                  PART 1

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SOURCE: Hans Lombard Public Relations, South Africa



DATE:   25.07.2007

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AFRICAN scientists and agricultural organizations yesterday welcomed the clarification by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) that the organization ”supports the use of science and technology” – including genetic modification (GM) technology – ”to aid Africa’s smallholder farmers in their urgent efforts to end widespread poverty and hunger”.

Five major organizations working in agriculture – AfricaBio, the Africa Biotechnology Stakeholders Forum (ABSF), Africa Harvest Biotech Foundation International (AHBFI), Biotechnology-Ecology Research and Outreach Consortium (BioEROC) and the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) – said the AGRA position is consistent with that of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) in its report on biotechnology which states that ”regional economic integration in Africa should embody the building and accumulation of capacities to harness and govern modern biotechnology”.

AGRA says in a statement that its 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”.

The Alliance said its 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.

It said it has chosen to focus on conventional breeding techniques but would ”consider funding the development and deployment of such new (GM) technologies only after African governments have endorsed and provided for their safe use”.

The Alliance clarified that conventional breeding was its starting point, however it pointed out that since science and society are continually evolving, and it does 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.

Last week, AGRA’s new president, former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, was reported as having ruled out the GM technology as one of AGRA’s strategies in the fight against poverty and hunger in Africa.

Anti-GM organizations hailed his statement as a sign that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation - a funding partner to AGRA – has changed its strategy on the GM technology.

South African-based AfricaBio President, Prof. Diran Makinde, said ”African agricultural organizations welcome the clarification from AGRA.

We cannot fault their strategy and we agree that conventional plant breeding has not received sufficient attention or investment in Africa, leaving untapped the inherent genetic potential available in African crops”.

Africa Harvest CEO, Dr. Florence Wambugu, said ”Africa’s leaders had asked African scientists to come up with a consensus position on this new technology.

The NEPAD report clearly states that the continent must have the freedom to innovate.

Many countries and regional organizations are busy domesticating the NEPAD Biotechnology Policy and will resist any effort to erode their freedom to innovate”.

The African Biotechnology Stakeholders Forum (ABSF) CEO, Prof. Norah Olembo, said: ”Africa is not choosing between the GM and conventional breeding technologies.

Given the desperate situation the continent faces, we need desperate measures.

The African Green Revolution will not come through one technology only.

While we applaud the focus of AGRA on conventional breeding technologies, we also welcome their clarification that the GM technology has an important role to play in fighting poverty, hunger and malnutrition”.

Dr. Margaret Karembu of the Africa Center of ISAAA said ”No country has resolved her food security needs using a single approach. The clarification from AGRA therefore clears the misconception that Africa should be restricted to traditional methods while the rest of the global community moves fast in embracing new and advanced tools including GM technology to enhance agricultural productivity”.

Executive Director of BioEROC in Malawi, Mr. Wisdom Changadeya, said ”nobody can deny Africa its right to a technology that will help it solve some of its most serious and urgent problems. Biotechnology needs to be embraced alongside other equally useful conventional technologies”

Issued on behalf of:

- AfricaBio

- Africa Biotechnology Stakeholders Forum (ABSF)

- Africa Harvest Biotech Foundation International (AHBFI)

- Biotechnology-Ecology Research and Outreach Consortium (BioEROC)

- International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA)

By: Hans Lombard Public Relations

For more information:

Phone: +27 11 476 6926; Fax : +27 11 476 6127; Email:

                                  PART 2

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SOURCE: Truth About Trade & Technology, USA

AUTHOR: Dean Kleckner


DATE:   27.07.2007

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Dean Kleckner, an Iowa farmer, chairs Truth About Trade & Technology

The day after President Bush presented Norman Borlaug with the Congressional Gold Medal, the recipient of our country’s highest civilian honor described the great challenges that await agriculture in the 21st century: ”persistent poverty and environmental degradation in developing countries, changing global climate patterns, and the use of food crops to produce biofuels.”

He might have added another category: meddlesome former United Nations officials who issue confusing statements.

That’s because Kofi Annan, who stepped down as the UN’s secretary general at the start of this year, is busy telling African farmers that they don’t need biotechnology. Or so it would seem.

Annan is now Chairman of the Board of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), and last week he appeared to take a stand against the Gene Revolution: ”We in [AGRA] will not incorporate GMOs in our programs,” he said.

A newspaper in Kenya responded to his announcement with this headline: ”Annan rules out use of GMOs in the war on hunger in Africa.”

But did Annan really mean what he was quoted as saying? Some have suggested that he didn’t--and that he was merely responding to the reality that African farmers can’t afford genetically enhanced seeds and that some African governments lack the regulatory mechanisms to take proper advantage of the latest agricultural technology.

If Annan was misquoted or misinterpreted, then he has my sympathy: As we all know, the media sometimes gets the facts wrong.

Yet there’s one man who can clear up this mix-up--assuming it really is a mix-up--and that’s Kofi Annan.

So far, I haven’t heard him issue the full-throated endorsement of GM crops that a leader truly committed to the future of African farming would deliver.

Annan should take his cue from the father of the Green Revolution. Writing in the Wall Street Journal last week, Borlaug hailed ”the advent of a Gene Revolution that stands to equal, if not exceed, the Green Revolution of the 20th century.”

As it happens, AGRA has many good ideas. They recommend an improved infrastructure for Africa, better market opportunities for its farmers, the nurturing of native-born scientists, and smarter government policies – all good common sense suggestions. These strategies are what prompted the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation to invest $150 million in its program last year.

What African farmers need more than anything else, however, are better seeds. AGRA’s own website says that ”at the most fundamental level,” agricultural progress on the continent ”starts with improved crop varieties for larger, more diverse, and more reliable harvests.”

In the 21st century, that means unfettered access to GM seeds while continuing to work with old technologies.

”Agricultural science and technology, including the indispensable tools of biotechnology, will be critical to meeting the growing demands for food, feed, fiber, and biofuels,” says Borlaug.

Biotech crops are not a cure-all for the world’s agricultural dilemmas, to say nothing of the especially thorny problems that farmers face on the world’s most desperate continent. But it would certainly help Africa if scientists could apply their intelligence to improving beans, peanuts, tropical roots, bananas, and tubers with biotechnology.

The biotech option, without question, has helped farmers all over the world--so much so, in fact, that they’ve planted and harvested well over one and a half billion acres of GM crops. There’s no special reason why farmers in Africa should not participate as equal partners in the Gene Revolution, except for figures like Annan telling them not to bother.

The beauty of the Gene Revolution is that farmers have chosen it--they know that genetically-enhanced crops make sense, and so they’ve embraced them very rapidly, much as a previous generation of farmers embraced the techniques of the Green Revolution, albeit a bit more slowly.

Why anybody would want to deny African farmers the choice of achieving similar benefits is beyond me.

Perhaps we should invite Annan to attend Truth About Trade and Technology’s Global Farmer-to-Farmer Roundtable this October—held in conjunction annually with the World Food Prize and Norman E. Borlaug International Symposium. Last year, Borlaug attended the program and addressed the 22 Roundtable farmers from 16 countries. He encouraged them to share knowledge and collaborate.

He certainly didn’t tell them to ignore biotechnology. But then the clear-speaking father of the Green Revolution isn’t the kind of guy who would do that.

                                  PART 3

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SOURCE: Daily Nation, Kenya

AUTHOR: Letter, by Njoroge Wachai, USA


DATE:   27.07.2007

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I am dismayed by Mr Kofi Annan’s recent remark on genetically modified foods On a recent visit to Kenya, the former UN secretary-general and now the chairman of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, ruled out incorporating genetically modified foods by his organisation in fighting food insecurity in Africa Mr Annan’s remark was misplaced. When you’re trying to look for a solution to such a serious issue, you put all options on the table. Mr Annan has the right to be sceptical about genetically modified foods, but such biases must not drive policies of such an important organisation as Agra By trashing the foods, Mr Annan is effectively telling us that modern crop biotechnology has no place in Africa. It’s hard for me to understand why. As a career diplomat, Mr Annan, should know better.

                                  PART 4

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SOURCE: Business Daily Africa, Kenya

AUTHOR: Comment, by Sam Makinda


DATE:   26.07.2007

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Prof Makinda is the chair of security,terrorism and counter-terrorism at Murdoch University in Perth, Australia.

26-July-2007: Former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s recent visit to Kenya signified many things, but the most outstanding was his sharing of knowledge with Kenyans.

For over a decade, Mr Annan presided over the production and promotion of development knowledge at the highest global level. During his visit, Annan acted as a knowledge broker, seeking support for a new incarnation of the ”green revolution”.

It is through knowledge that Kenya and other African countries can pursue the food security goals to which Mr Annan referred.

They can also address various challenges, including the transport infrastructure, the environment, health, water, sanitation and economic productivity, which are bound to have a great impact on food security. Ideally, most of this knowledge ought to come from Kenyan and African scientists and scholars.

In a recent conversation with a senior Kenyan bureaucrat in Nairobi, I was pleased to learn that the Kibaki government is keen to use both local and foreign sources of knowledge to address these challenges.

However, the bureaucrat insisted that many of the studies available were not adequately prescriptive and some of them were written in a language that was not easily intelligible to policy makers.

He thought that some of the authors of the available publications did not appear to understand the policy-making process. He might have been right.

Some of the publications in my field of international relations use language expressions and apply formulae that are not intelligible to me. As in any profession, there are smart as well as poor academics, both here in Kenya and elsewhere.

One type of academics writes primarily for its students or fellow academics, which is fine, but its publications have only marginal relevance for the policy process. The situation is made worse by the fact that a large section of these academics focuses on very narrow areas of research and has little or no knowledge of the policy-making process.

There is another type of academics that either shies away from, despises or is simply uninterested in policy prescriptions. As a result, some of those who focus solely on policy relevant research may be despised, ostracisied, and, in some cases, take longer to be promoted.

If knowledge from the universities and research institutions is to find its way into the policy process in Kenya and elsewhere in Africa, we need effective intermediaries between the researchers and policy makers.

These intermediaries, or knowledge brokers, are particularly influential in conditions of uncertainty, like those that characterise debates on terrorism, genetically modified organisms and environmental degradation.

Knowledge brokers are scientists, specialists in particular fields or senior former international civil servants like Mr Annan, but they do not spend much time producing knowledge.

Instead, they use the knowledge produced by others as their tool of trade. They are able to do this because of their good understanding of both science and the policy process.

Although many knowledge brokers regard themselves as political, they are powerful political actors because of the commodities they broker. Their source of political power is the ability to define, frame or interpret knowledge for policy makers.

Thus, their positions as interpreters of reality in conditions of uncertainty are substantial sources of political power. The potential danger when the policy establishment in Kenya or elsewhere in Africa faces politically powerful knowledge brokers is that it will end up not just buying knowledge, but being manipulated and shaped by knowledge brokers.



European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering

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