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BUSINESS & POLICY: GE crop research needed to bolster food security and create jobs in Africa



                                  PART 1


------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:   BIOTECHNOLOGY RESEARCH NEEDED TO BOLSTER FOOD SECURITY, CREATE JOBS

SOURCE:  Creamer Media?s Engineering News, South Africa

AUTHOR:  Dimakatso Motau

URL:     http://www.engineeringnews.co.za/article/conference-encourages-the-move-to-agricultural-biotechnology-2011-09-16

DATE:    16.09.2011

SUMMARY: "It was imperative for governments to explore the use of agricultural biotechnology to produce healthy food and create employment, National Research Council Canada executive director Dr Jerome Konecsni said in Johannesburg last week. [...] Konecsni said it was important to invest in research and development to ensure a safe transition to genetically modified foods, especially in Africa and developing countries, where the majority of the population live in poverty."

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BIOTECHNOLOGY RESEARCH NEEDED TO BOLSTER FOOD SECURITY, CREATE JOBS

It was imperative for governments to explore the use of agricultural biotechnology to produce healthy food and create employment, National Research Council Canada executive director Dr Jerome Konecsni said in Johannesburg last week.

He was speaking at the opening ceremony of the Agricultural Biotechnology International Conference (ABIC), which he chaired.

This year?s theme was Agricultural Biotechnology for Economic Development.

Konecsni said it was important to invest in research and development to ensure a safe transition to genetically modified foods, especially in Africa and developing countries, where the majority of the population live in poverty.

Gauteng MEC for Agriculture and Rural Development Nandi Mayathula-Khoza said the Gauteng provincial government was committed to exploring the use of biotechnology for food production and job creation and had a strategy in place, which was launched in 2008.

?The strategy includes using crops that are resistant to climate change for farming, public awareness of the use of biotechnology, student participation in public forums, bursary schemes to ensure that skilled people are employed in this sector and stimulating the economy through manufacturing biotechnology products,? she explained.

She noted that the Gauteng provincial government was also exploring ways to support seed funding for genetically modified crops for subsistence farmers and to assist them in graduating to medium-scale farming and creating employment. ?We also aim to create a platform for partnerships to allow knowledge sharing to further grow the industry,? said Mayathula-Khoza.

Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane said biotechnology was a transformative technology entrenched in sustainable development to create better living conditions, while contributing to environment conservation.

?There is significant pressure on natural resources to provide energy for other industries, such as the power industry, through renewable energies. Food production has to explore other technological methods to provide sufficient food for the growing population of the province,? said Mokonyane.

University of Cape Town professor of microbiology in the department of molecular and cell biology Jennifer Thomson said conventional crop improvement alone would not double crop production ? hence, the need to grow genetically modified crops.

The growth of the biotechnology industry in South Africa and other developing countries depends on support from governments, access to new and improved genetically modified crops and appropriate and efficient regulation to support agricultural biotechnology, said Thomson.

Edited by: Martin Zhuwakinyu



                                  PART 2

------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:   BIOTECHNOLOGY THE ANSWER TO FOOD SHORTAGES

SOURCE:  Daily Nation, Kenya

AUTHOR:  Gilbert arap Bor

URL:     http://www.nation.co.ke/oped/Opinion/Biotechnology+the+answer+to+food+shortages+/-/440808/1234454/-/14wp251z/-/index.html

DATE:    11.09.2011

SUMMARY: "We must accept 21st century agricultural methods, including biotechnology and modern fertilisers, as the best way for farmers to increase their yields and start to make it possible for the continent to feed itself. Kenya took a positive first step by gazetting the biosafety regulations on 15 August, thus paving the way for commercialisation of GM crops. The country is now fully compliant with the international requirements on the development and utilisation of biotechnology."

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BIOTECHNOLOGY THE ANSWER TO FOOD SHORTAGES

Mr Bor practises small-scale farming in Kapseret, near Eldoret. He also teaches at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa and is a member of the Truth About Trade & Technology Global Farmer Network.

The United States has survived its debt-ceiling showdown, but it found an extra $17 million (Sh1.58 billion) for famine relief in East Africa.

This new commitment boosts the amount of aid for Ethiopia, Somalia and my country Kenya to more than $580 million (Sh54 billion) this year. The aid will reach 4.6 million people.

The long-term solution to our perennial problem is that we must start to ?break the cycle? of food shortages, as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton put it, so that we can support ourselves.

We must accept 21st century agricultural methods, including biotechnology and modern fertilisers, as the best way for farmers to increase their yields and start to make it possible for the continent to feed itself.

Kenya took a positive first step by gazetting the biosafety regulations on 15 August, thus paving the way for commercialisation of GM crops. The country is now fully compliant with the international requirements on the development and utilisation of biotechnology. It is the fourth African country to do so after Burkina Faso, Egypt, and South Africa.

For years, Kenyans have battled fears about biotechnology crops. It is our hope that Agriculture minister Sally Kosgei put these worries to rest with her blunt comment that ?I have been consuming soya beans imported from Britain which are GMO, yet they have not had an effect on my health.?

The Catholic bishops of Kenya have embraced biotechnology. They endorsed the government?s decision to permit GM crops, advising people to eat genetically modified foods to check starvation.

This is in direct contrast to opposition by some non-governmental organisations and MPs to a government plan to import genetically modified maize from South Africa.

I agree with Dr Kosgei and the bishops. I plan to grow GM crops on my small farm as soon as possible because it will help my land produce more food.

All Kenyan farmers should welcome biotechnology, just as the previous generation welcomed hybrid seeds.

The other crucial ingredient for agricultural success is fertiliser. African farmers do not use enough of it ? far less than their counterparts elsewhere, according to the Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Programme.

In North America, farmers put more than 200 kgs of fertiliser on each hectare they cultivate. In East and Southern Asia, the figure is 135 kgs, South Asia 100 kgs, and Latin America 73 kgs. Sub-Saharan Africa?s average fertiliser use is a mere 9 kgs.

There are many reasons for this sad state of affairs. Prices for fertiliser are two to six times the world average, supplies are low due to poor infrastructure, while some farmers do not understand the value of using fertiliser.

Bureaucratic obstacles also get in the way. In his book Common Wealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet, Jeffrey Sachs cites evidence suggesting that if African smallholder farms took advantage of modern technologies ? and especially fertiliser ? their yields could increase tenfold.

Higher productivity is the ultimate solution to Africa?s food insecurity. Biotechnology and use of fertiliser are two of its essential ingredients.



                                  PART 3

------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:   DOES KENYA NEED GM CROPS AS IT BATTLES FAMINE IN THE HORN OF AFRICA?

SOURCE:  The Ecologist, UK

AUTHOR:  Rosie Spinks

URL:     http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/1044089/does_kenya_need_gm_crops_as_it_battles_famine_in_the_horn_of_africa.html

DATE:    08.09.2011

SUMMARY: "Many question if it?s even necessary for Kenya to import GM products to meet the massive food need and whether the nation possesses the regulatory prowess to effectively deal with GM crops once they?ve arrived. Aid agencies and agricultural officials have reported that farmers in other parts of Kenya do in fact have surplus crops, much of which have been exported to Southern Sudan and elsewhere; agricultural officials claim they are unable to direct where farmers sell their harvest. ?Even within Kenya, there is actually non-GM maize available?, Anderson says. ?They?ve either just sold it to other markets or there are no distribution channels in place. If there?s aid going in it should actually be used to develop those channels?."

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DOES KENYA NEED GM CROPS AS IT BATTLES FAMINE IN THE HORN OF AFRICA?

In the midst of a dire need to feed millions of people facing hunger because of drought, Kenya?s newly passed Biosafety Act allows for the importation of GM crops - but at what cost?

There has been a really long-term, ongoing push by Monsanto and USAID to get GM approved in Kenya

As the most severe drought crisis in 60 years continues in East Africa, a contentious issue simmers under the surface, one that potentially puts the environmentalist agenda at stark odds with the dire need to save human lives.

Facing a growing number of people in need of food aid, the Kenyan government gazetted existing legislation in August that allows for the importation of genetically modified (GM) crops as well as for the cultivation of GM food crops within Kenya.

Passage of the act makes Kenya the fourth African nation, after South Africa, Egypt and Burkino Faso, to legalise GM crops. While some view the decision as a direct response to the famine, the title of the legislation ? the Kenya Biosafety Act of 2009 ? indicates that Kenya had GM aspirations for quite some time.

The government?s decision was met with opposition by environmental groups, high-ranking Kenyan parliamentarians, and small-scale subsistence farmers, all of whom fear that the importation of GM seeds could contaminate existing seed stocks and decrease food security. 

Teresa Anderson, of the Gaia foundation, which partners with the African biodiversity network to prevent the industrial commoditisation of the continent?s agriculture, says Kenyan farmers? opposition to the new legislation is a testament to how devastating GM could be for their farming practises.

?There is a strong resistance from African farmers in particular who are concerned about the impacts?, Anderson says. ?80 per cent of small scale farmers save their seed; this practise is crucial for African farmers? livelihoods.?

If a GM seed contaminates a nearby farmer?s non-GM seed (say by accidental wind cross-pollination), the farmer would no longer be able to save his seed for the next planting season, as he would be in possession of a patented product.

In addition to GMO?s potential effects on small farmers, Anderson said that Kenya?s new allowance of GM represents a sea change in the East Africa region as a whole.

?There has been a really long-term, ongoing push by Monsanto and USAID to get GM approved in Kenya because it?s seen as the gateway to Africa?, Anderson says. ?It?s more developed and it?s connected to the East Africa regional block. Once you have one country with a certain set of biosafety rules they [will try and] push for harmonisation in the region?.

The genetically modified seeds currently produced by agribusiness giants such as Monsanto are ones resistant to a certain pesticide or modified so that they produce a poison that kills predators. Hopes for a GM drought-resistant crop for regions like central Africa have not yet been achieved.

The necessity of GM

Many question if it?s even necessary for Kenya to import GM products to meet the massive food need and whether the nation possesses the regulatory prowess to effectively deal with GM crops once they?ve arrived.

Aid agencies and agricultural officials have reported that farmers in other parts of Kenya do in fact have surplus crops, much of which have been exported to Southern Sudan and elsewhere; agricultural officials claim they are unable to direct where farmers sell their harvest.

?Even within Kenya, there is actually non-GM maize available?, Anderson says. ?They?ve either just sold it to other markets or there are no distribution channels in place. If there?s aid going in it should actually be used to develop those channels?.

Parliamentarian Gideon Konchellah was quoted in the Kenyan press echoing Anderson?s claim. ?There is no need for the government to import maize yet we have the capacity to produce enough maize?.

Oxfam international maintains that while in severe situations, externally derived food aid ?can be a crucial lifeline? in-kind food aid should be limited to situations of acute local food shortage and/or non-functioning local food markets?.

Despite the controversial legislation passed in August, it appears that roadblocks have prevented the GM product from reaching the mouths of hungry people.

A biosafety researcher based in Nairobi, who wished to remain anonymous, told the Ecologist that August?s announcement - intended to pave an easy road for GM in the country - has seemingly done the opposite.

?This [legislation] could have backfired considering the tension that consumption of GMOs has created in the minds of the public?, the researcher said. ?After the approval, the media exposed the reality of the situation on the ground making the Kenyans aware that in the same country, there have been incidences of food surplus with farmers feeding the cows with the surplus?.

Among other problems the source highlighted were a lack of clearly defined regulations for labelling practices; questions over special interests of public figures who advocate for GM importation for less-than-humanitarian reasons; and doubts over whether newly-formed National Biosafety Authority (NBA) has the man-power to effectively regulate. The chair of the NBA declined to comment on this story.

?The controversy around GMOs in Kenya may not be coming to an end anytime soon?, the source told the Ecologist. ?This is confounded by complex social and political dynamics?.

But how to feed the hungry?

Whether it is with GM food or not, feeding the millions of hungry people in the region is of paramount concern. In addition to the Kenyan government?s response, many NGOs are currently working in the region, with the UN World Food Programme (WFP) reaching the largest number of people - 1.86 million in Kenya alone.

Emilia Casella, global media coordinator for the UN WFP, explained how the agency usually responds to GM-related issues in the face of hunger crises.

?WFP has responsibility to mobilise as much safe and healthy food as possible for the world?s hungry?, says Casella. ?Governments are free to choose whether or not they accept GM foods. When a country indicates it doesn?t want to use GM foods then we try to identify alternatives. But we can?t guarantee we?ll have those alternatives available on hand as quickly?.

Despite recent reports that the WFP had been allowed to  ?import emergency food from the US without being tested?, Casella says that the agency has never imported any GM whole grains into Kenya, which unlike milled products can contaminate other crops.

However, she explains that the high nutrition ?super cereal? corn-soy blend that WFP does distribute comes from a variety of sources, some of which are GM. Casella says this practise was legal in Kenya even before the new legislation and has not changed. The only change the WFP has seen as a result of the Biosafety Act is a shift in the regulatory agency to which it must apply for permits.

Olivia Langhof of Greenpeace Africa, based in Johannesburg, echoes the concerns of other critics in saying that even in the face of a dire need to feed human beings, GM is not an adequate answer. She says in addition to being unnecessary, it doesn?t address the underlying causes of the devastating humanitarian crisis.

?What completely falls in the gap in the current discussion?because so many people are dying?is how we stop this [kind of drought] from happening again?, Langhof says. ?No government in Africa should fall into the trap into the agri-busniess industry because that is really selling out their food security and farmers?.

What?s more, argues Tom MacMillan from the Food Ethics Council, responding to food shortages with technology-based solutions is ends up undermining small farmers.

?GM maize hasn?t been developed to meet the needs of those farming on the breadline in Kenya?, he says. ?Importing GM maize is expected to lower food prices short-term, perhaps pleasing restless city folk and reassuring politicians, but may further erode the resilience of rural communities.?



                                  PART 4

------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:   VC CANVASSES MORE BIOTECH RESEARCH

SOURCE:  Vanguard, Nigeria

AUTHOR:  

URL:     http://www.vanguardngr.com/2011/08/vc-canvasses-more-biotech-research/

DATE:    25.08.2011

SUMMARY: "VICE-CHANCELLOR of Joseph Ayo Babalola University [...] Professor Sola Fajana, has called for more research on biotechnology to boost national development, saying the very essence of humanity depends on it. [...] the Director-General of National Biotechnology Development Agency Professor B.O. Solomon, said that Biotechnology had potentials to contribute to the eradication of hunger and ensure food security, provide affordable healthcare delivery service, create employment and enhance national development and wealth creation in Nigeria."

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VC CANVASSES MORE BIOTECH RESEARCH

VICE-CHANCELLOR of Joseph Ayo Babalola University, JABU, Ikeji Arakeji, Ilesha, Osun State, Professor Sola Fajana, has called for more research on biotechnology to boost national development, saying the very essence of humanity depends on it. Speaking at the 24th annual conference of Biotechnology Society of Nigeria, BSN, Prof Fajana stressed the importance of Biotechnology as one of the focal points which could act as a driving force to push JABU to the next level. In an address, the Director-General of National Biotechnology Development Agency, NABDA, Professor B.O. Solomon, said that Biotechnology had potentials to contribute to the eradication of hunger and ensure food security, provide affordable healthcare delivery service, create employment and enhance national development and wealth creation in Nigeria. According to him, the Agency was established by the Federal Government on 23rd April, 2001 to ensure profitable application of Biotechnology in health services, food s
 ecurity, industrial growth, environmental safety and protection among others.