GENET archive


AGRICULTURE & DEVELOPMENT: Will Africa cotton to bioengineering?

                                 PART I
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TITLE:  USAID to fund Shs270m pest resistant cotton trials
SOURCE: Daily Monitor, UIganda
AUTHOR: Joseph Olanyo
DATE:   21.05.2007

USAID to fund Shs270m pest resistant cotton trials


 The United States Agency for International Development (Usaid) is to
inject $160,000 (about Shs272 million) on pest resistant cotton trials.

Through its Agricultural Productivity Enhancement Programme (APEP),
Usaid will facilitate the National Agricultural Research Organisation
(NARO) to undertake trials on the pest cotton referred to as Bt cotton.

Bt is a scientific name for Baccilus Thuringiensis, a beneficial
bacterium that kills insects. It is a major component of pesticide
industry used for control of specific caterpillar-like crop pests.

APEP Managing Director Clive Drew said on May 7 the trials are expected
to start by end of May. Mr Drew said Usaid is still waiting approval
from the National Biosafety Committee under the National Council of
Science and Technology (NCST).

"When approved, confined field trials will be conducted to test the
effects of Bt on bollworms compared to controlled cotton, which will
only be sprayed," Mr Drew said. "But because of the porous nature of our
borders, we got to move very fast in getting the testing done in
accordance with the legal framework".

Mr Drew, however, said the trials would not be released commercially.
"We don't know the outcome yet, the only thing we know is that whenever
it is tested, it does not end up being released for commercial
purposes," he said.

"As part of the commercial procedure, the trial sites are guarded. All
materials used will be completely destroyed. So there is no chance of
productive materials leaking".
The Biosafety Officer Uganda National Council of Science and Technology,
Mr Arthur Makara, said the council was still reviewing the application
and would come up with the date the trials will take off.

Mr Makara said the technology has a potential to increase yields, reduce
number of sprays and costs of pesticides. "Yes, the confined field
trials will be done, they are still at research stage but it is hard to
fix a particular date as to when," Mr Makara said.

A research scientist at Kawanda Agricultural Research Institute, Mr
Godfrey Arinaitwe, said during a field visit to South Africa recently
that the trials will be conducted in conjunction with Cotton Development
Authority (CDO), will try two technologies.
Mr Arinaitwe said one will be resistance to herbicide and the other will
be resistance to the cotton pest called bollworms.

"It is a very good technology even for small scale farmers. You don't
need to mix chemicals, instead you use one herbicide," Mr Arinaitwe
said. Bt cotton has been tested and commercially released in a number of
countries, which include among others South Africa, Brazil and India.

It is now under a testing study in Kenya and Burkina Faso
Initially, the main application for Bt has been in maize crops.

USAID is doing trials on herbicide tolerance cotton, cotton that has
been genetically modified so that if it is sprayed with round-up
herbicide, the cotton is not affected but all weeds are killed.

"It will be very beneficial to Uganda because weeds are a very big
problem in cotton contributing to apparently 30 per cent of yield loses,
cotton being a long season crop," Mr Drew said.

If proved effective, the technologies are expected to improve the
competitiveness of Uganda's cotton sector and result in increased cotton

The cotton output in the 2006/07 season was 135,000 bales down from
248,000 bales in the 2005/06 season. The output has generally increased
from 103,000 bales in the 2004/05 season.

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                                 PART II
------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------
TITLE:  Will Africa cotton to bioengineering?
SOURCE: Fortune Magazine, USA
AUTHOR: G. Pascal Zachary
DATE:   29.01.2007

Will Africa cotton to bioengineering?

(Fortune Magazine) -- Lorence Nyaka hacks at the root of a cassava
plant, slicing away one fresh tuber after another until he has a small
pile, enough to make a midday meal for his wife and three young children.

Drought ruined the Malawian farmer's crop in 2005, and his family went
hungry for weeks before the end of the dry season. This time the cassava
are plentiful, but because the tubers spoil quickly after harvest, Nyaka
leaves them in the ground, running a risk that disease will destroy his
crop. Each Wednesday afternoon he holds a prayer service with his
neighbors in which, he says, they "ask God to protect our cassava."

Halfway around the world, at Ohio State University, scientists think
they have found a better way to protect African cassava from the
malignant forces of nature: insert genetic traits into the cassava plant
that will allow the tuber to flourish during drought and to resist disease.

The new and improved cassava remains in the lab and is years from
production. Field trials, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation,
are expected to begin later this year in Nigeria. Those trials - and
similar ones for drought-tolerant corn developed by Monsanto of St.
Louis - are critical to paving the way for genetically modified crops to
at long last assist African farmers, the least productive and poorest in
the world on average.

"The question is no longer whether genetically modified crops will come
to Africa, but when and how," says Wisdom Changadeya, who heads a
biotech advocacy group in Malawi. Changadeya lives fewer than 30 miles
from Nyaka's farm and knows well both the worries and the needs of
Malawians. "Local farmers aren't interested in abstract debates," he
says. "They will use seeds that address a specific problem, and anything
that helps them cope with droughts will be welcomed."

Genetically modified crops have been blocked in Africa for the past
decade, the victim of well-organized European opponents who have
convinced African governments that they pose an environmental hazard and
are a new form of Western colonialism. South Africa is alone among sub-
Saharan countries in allowing bioengineered crops. But in the rest of
Africa the tide is turning. Burkina Faso, a major cotton producer, may
begin switching to genetically modified seeds this year. In November the
African Union released a report trumpeting the virtues of biotechnology.
"There's a new openness to genetically modified crops in Africa, but
that doesn't mean we accept everything on offer," says Theresa Sengooba,
a plant scientist in Uganda. "We have to always ask, 'Where are the

Genetically modified cotton offers the most immediate benefit for
African farmers, who collectively export more cotton onto global markets
than anyone besides American farmers. In Burkina Faso, where the
country's cotton sector is heavily regulated, farmers are likely to
switch en masse, hoping to reap higher profits because of greater yields
and lower use of pesticides.

Africa's move into genetically modified cotton will be a vindication for
Monsanto, which has been selling bioengineered cotton, corn, and
soybeans in South Africa since the mid-1990s. "In the rest of Africa,
progress has been slow, but it is happening," says Kinyua M'Mbijjewe,
Monsanto's government affairs chief for Africa. The company is
negotiating with Burkina Faso on royalty terms for its cotton seeds,
which must be localized to suit the various climates and geographies of
sub-Saharan Africa. M'Mbijjewe won't comment on the talks, but whatever
deal is struck will have long-term ramifications. "A few countries will
lead," he says, "and then the market will explode."

Analysts agree, citing the experience of India, where cotton growers are
switching quickly to genetically modified seeds and posting large gains
in output and profits, according to Sam Mohanty, an agricultural
economist at Texas Tech University. Mohanty predicts that unless Africa
- where millions of farmers grow cotton for cash - switches to
bioengineered crops, "the region will have difficulty remaining in the

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                                 PART III
------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------
TITLE:  Growing maize is not what it used to be
SOURCE: Inter Press Service News Agency, Italy
AUTHOR: Stephanie Nieuwoudt
DATE:   17.05.2007

Growing maize is not what it used to be

NAIROBI, May 17 (IPS) - Ask Kenyans what their favourite food is and
they will most likely answer ugali.

Ugali is the Swahili word for porridge, a milled and cooked form of
maize. Served with meat, it is a staple on most menus in local restaurants.

It is also the mainstay of agriculture in Kenya. A large percentage of
the country's population depends on maize as an income-generating crop.
According to a report by Oxfam Kenya it is produced by large as well as
small-scale farmers. About 75 percent of Kenya's farmers are small-scale

Although maize is produced countrywide, some areas are more fertile,
like the North Great Valley district where there is often a surplus. The
eastern, north eastern and central districts are food deficit areas.
There production tends to be mainly for household use.

A recent government study, the Kenya Integrated Household Budget Survey,
shows that in spite of the negative effects of economic liberalisation
and privatisation in the 1990s, most Kenyan farmers still have faith in
maize - so much so that 90 percent of them regularly invest in this crop.

The Kenyan government liberalized the economy in 1996 with the adoption
of a policy paper called Renewed Growth and Economic Management. The aim
of the programme was to improve productivity and the quality of products
and to diversify exports. Divergent views exist about the programme.

"Liberalisation has been a mixed bag of positives and negatives for
Kenya," says Gichinga Ndiranga, an independent policy consultant on
trade in Kenya.

On the negative side, it seems the maize industry was particularly badly
affected. With liberalisation, price controls fell away.

The price of maize had previously been regulated by the National Cereals
and Produce Board (NCPB). This created security as farmers knew exactly
what would be paid for a bag of maize. They could calculate their income
even before the maize was sold.

Then the market was liberalised. "The idea was that the private sector
would step in and fill the gap left when the government pulled out, but
the economy was not ready for liberalisation. The prices farmers got on
the market fluctuated, leading to uncertainty," says Ndiranga.

Elizabeth Muemi Kio, sustainable livelihoods programme coordinator with
Oxfam Kenya, a developmental non-governmental organisation, says that
Kenyan farmers had never before dealt with an unregulated market.

Before liberalisation, the industry was tainted with mismanagement and
corruption. This was the case not only at the NCPB but also at the Co-
operative Bank of Kenya which provided financial support to maize and
other agricultural co-operatives. The legacy of corruption caused
further insecurity in the maize industry. In some cases men left the
rural areas to find better work in the cities, leaving women to manage
production. This has caused problems related to gender discrimination.

Rural women were by no means new to agriculture. In Kenya, as in most
other African countries, more than 70 percent of farmers are women. Yet
in most instances they lack legal ownership of the land.

Women might till the land, sow the seeds and harvest the crop, but they
often do not see the fruits of their labour. The money ends up in the
pockets of their husbands or male relatives.

Farmers periodically need bank loans to finance their operations. A
woman that does not own the land she farms will have difficulty getting
a loan even if she heads her household because land ownership is often a
prerequisite to borrowing money.

With the liberalisation of the maize market, global companies have
introduced genetically modified (GM) crops. The introduction of GM means
the arrival of new technologies. Technology transfer is usually done to
men despite women being the primary food producers, warns Edith Makandi
Wanjohi of the non-governmental International Gender and Trade Network
based in Brazil.

The use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) has been controversial
in the Kenyan maize sector. "It is not a question of being good or bad
but rather whether safeguards have to be put in place to ensure food
security," says Ndiranga.

"There is no doubt that in certain areas GM seed can be beneficial, for
instance, in the arid areas of the country. There should be sufficient
regulation, though, to ensure it is done safely," Ndiranga argues.

When it comes to GMOs, Kio of Oxfam Kenya is concerned about the cost of
transport and additional inputs, which all contributes to higher seed prices.

"There is also the issue of ownership. Under certain agreements the
farmers have to commit to only planting the seeds one year. They have to
buy new seeds the following year. There is fear that the original seeds
will disappear from the market, making Kenyan farmers dependent on the
West which will affect food security," says Kio.

In her paper, Wanjohi points out that GM technology has encouraged
monoculture, eroding genetic diversity and "concentrating the benefits
of 'new' varieties in the hands of commercial companies, all at the
expense of poor farmers".

GM horticultural crops are also pushing out crops for household
consumption, which is detrimental for food security.

She further argues that the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute was
for decades involved in breeding crop varieties which were treated as
public goods. This changed with the commercialisation of the seed
industry. Farmers now have to pay royalties for the varieties they buy.
Maize production has not recovered as was intended by the economic
reforms, according to Wanjohi.

"To some degree, poor performance has increased and led to the import of
genetically modified foods and the dumping of food on the Kenyan market.
As a result, farmers can no longer  sell their produce at a good market
price," Wanjohi writes in the paper.

In an effort to address the problems arising from trade liberalisation,
the Kenyan government has for the past three years tried to revive the
NCPB, the Co-operative Bank and the Kenyan Grain Growers' Cooperative
Union (KGGCU), another institution which collapsed. The government has
also reclaimed silos previously leased to the private sector.

"Through the KGGCU, inputs like fertilizer and improved seeds can be
sold to farmers at a subsidized price," says Ndiranga.

In March this year the government released 17,6 million US dollars to
the NCPB to pay farmers who delivered maize but were not paid. However,
there was still a shortfall of 8,5 million dollars.

Is the Kenyan economy ready for further liberalisation? "We are already
there. We are under pressure from external sources. There is no turning
back," says Kio.

"But there is no doubt that some sectors are riper for liberalisation
than others. In the case of the maize sector, Kenya was clearly not
prepared. The government did not think the liberalisation of the
industry through. They did not anticipate problems," Kio points out.

"Due to natural disasters, such as floods and droughts, some areas
cannot even produce enough maize for their own consumption. The country
needs extensive training for farmers to make them understand what the
advantages and pitfalls of liberalisation are."

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