GENTECH archive


news from Africa


African Scientists Urge GM Acceptance

- Michael Cherry,, September 4, 2002

JOHANNESBURG - A coalition of African scientists at the World Summit on
Sustainable Development in Johannesburg has urged southern African
countries to accept donations of genetically modified (GM) maize.

The declaration was presented by Kenyan scientist Florence Wambugu,
executive director of A Harvest Biotech Foundation International, at a
day-long side event last Saturday (31 August) organised by AfricaBio, a
Johannesburg-based association that promotes biotechnology in the

It follows the controversial decision by some southern African nations to
reject US donations of maize, on the grounds that it might contain GM
material (see Famine-stricken countries reject GM maize).

"The rejection of GM food by some African countries is not based on
scientific data evidence of harm to human beings, animals or the
environment," says the declaration. "As African scientists, we therefore
consider it unethical and inhuman to play politics with the lives of
people under the pretext that the food aid is unsafe because it is GM

GM foods will have a tremendous positive impact in Africa, where per
capita food production is actually declining, so there is a clear
imperative to increase yields, said Wambugu.  Other speakers at the
meeting highlighted how GM crops are already taking off in developing
countries. Of the 5.5 million farmers growing GM crops last year, more
than three quarters were resource-poor farmers, mostly in China but also
in South Africa, according to Nathalie Moll of the Brussels-based lobby
group Europabio.

Moll said that between 1999 and 2000, the growth in area planted with GM
crops in developing countries was five times that in developed countries.
She also claimed that small-scale farmers in both South Africa and China
have successfully employed Bt cotton, which has been genetically
engineered to protect plants against bollworm. In South Africa's Makhatini
flats, for example, peasant cotton farmers have already seen rises in
yields, she said... (clipped for brevity)

Statement by African Scientists on the question of GM food Aid and famine
in Southern Africa

The severe famine facing Southern African countries has brought to the
forefront, the issue of Genetically Modified (GM) food. In the last few
weeks, various conflicting statements have been made in the African and
international media regarding GM food aid to the continent. The African
scientists‚ position in this important debate has not featured.

African scientists from various countries have come together to clarify
the matter from a scientific perspective. We endeavors to provide
leadership and direction on this critical issue threatening the lives of
13 million people and over 300,000 facing near-death due to the various
governments‚ decision to refuse food aid because it is GM.

We believe the affected governments may not have consulted the local
African scientists or the people most facing hunger and starvation. These
governments‚ decisions appear to have been influenced by the anti-GM lobby
groups to advance their agenda. People are dying from hunger, brought
about by indecision, caused by misinformation from anti-GM groups, NOT GM

In view of this African scientists‚ state categorically as follows:
 (a) That GM foods are tested and certified by government regulatory
agencies in USA and other countries and found to be safe against
allergies, toxins and any other harmful elements to human, animals and the
environment before being commercialized. (b) To date, there is no
scientific evidence or data to show that GM foods are unsafe to human
beings, animals or the environment.

(c) There is ample data and information from several credible
international organizations which confirm the safety of GM foods; these
include the World Health Organization (WHO), the Food and Agricultural
Organization (FAO), the OECD and many national regulatory committees. (d)
GM foods have been eaten by millions of people in the US, Canada, China,
Latin America over several years and there has been no documented evidence
of any harm to human beings, animals or the environment. (e) To date,
there are over 100 million acres of GM crops (Clive James, 2001) being
grown globally and the acreage is increasing due to farmers and consumer
acceptance and demand.

The rejection of GM food by some African countries is therefore not based
on scientific data evidence of harm to human beings, animals or the
environment. As African scientists, we therefore consider it unethical and
inhuman to play politics with the lives of people under the pretext that
the food aid is unsafe because it is GM food.

African scientists stand for the proper introduction of GM crops based on
international protocols. We stand for responsible deployment of GM crops
in Africa under the Global International Bio-safety Protocol and National
Bio-safety Regulations and Guidelines


'Do Not Repeat the Mistakes of Orissa,' They Challenge

Auburn, AL September 5, 2002 - A group of scientists and agriculture
experts led by the AgBioWorld Foundation are applauding recent activist
statements supporting genetically-modified food aid from the United States,
which has been refused by some African leaders despite the risk of millions
dying from starvation. The group also challenged these and other activists
to act responsibly and stop spreading misinformation about foods grown
using biotechnology.

Greenpeace's Annette Cotter told the Wall Street Journal, "When it comes to
famine, telling anybody not to eat GM food in this situation is a position
we absolutely can't take." Juan Lopez of Friends of the Earth said, "We're
not saying no to GM foods in the middle of the famine." Unfortunately,
these messages conflict with other statements by the same organizations and
are not shared by their various allies. Even though the rejection of food
aid has been widely condemned, many activist groups, including Friends of
the Earth Malaysia, Vandana Shiva's Research Foundation for Science,
Technology and Natural Resource Policy, the Institute of Science in
Society, and the Third World Network, continue to oppose the shipments.

"It is refreshing to hear that some environmentalists are no longer willing
to sacrifice the lives of desperate people in order to further their own
agendas," said Dr. C.S. Prakash, Tuskegee University plant genetics
professor and president of the AgBioWorld Foundation. "But it is tragic
that many others are still unconcerned by the consequences of their

"The world is standing by as southern Africa may experience more deaths
every day than all those lost on September 11," said Professor James
Ochanda, chairman of the African Biotechnology Stakeholders Forum, based in
Nairobi, Kenya. "Providing cover to those who use famine for political
means and scaring starving millions into believing that the same food eaten
by well-fed and wealthier nations is unsafe is having dire and inexcusable

Nor is this the first time activist groups opposed food aid shipments. In
June 2000, Greenpeace and Shiva's Research Foundation attempted to block US
food aid to victims of a cyclone in the Indian state of Orissa, which left
over 10,000 dead. "It is time for groups like Greenpeace and Friends of the
Earth to stop playing public relations games with people's lives and
publicly condemn these statements and activities," said Patrick Moore of
Greenspirit. Moore, a founding member of Greenpeace who now opposes the
organization's tactics, added, "They should urge their members and allies
to stop compounding the impact of this and other crises by politicizing
life-saving food aid."

The AgBioWorld Foundation and numerous other organizations, including the
African Biotechnology Stakeholders Forum, AfricaBio, the Center for Global
Food Issues, GreenSpirit, and International Consumers for Civil Society,
have challenged activist organizations to formally endorse food aid
shipments and to not repeat the mistakes of 'Orissa.' A coalition of
African scientists also urged southern African countries to accept
donations of genetically modified food aid during the ongoing World Summit
on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg.


Who Said Myths Are Old Wives' Tales?

- Berhe W.aregay, AllAfrica Global Media., September 04,

There was a moment in the early '70s when farmers in Ethiopia held
unflattering myths about chemical fertilizers. To mention a couple or so:
that fertilizers were made from old skulls and that they made crops grow
faster, maybe, but that they play havoc on yield and that the land become
permanently addicted to fertilizers.

It took lots of persuasion and practical demonstrations and even some form
of bribing to have a few farmers try them at their fields. That was then.
Now farmers would kill to get chemical fertilizers. That doesn't mean
though that even now all objection against fertilizers from all corners is
silent once and for all. It only means that the nature of the objections
have changed.

And present-day skeptics are not necessarily all farmers. The modern day
unbelievers think that chemical fertilizers harm the environment, although
it has been repeatedly told that the concentration per unit area that
Ethiopian farmers use now is among the lowest in the world. Again there
are those who think the price is unaffordable, although it has been shown
that in normal years only a fraction of the increase in yield will pay for
the cost of the fertilizer incurred. Call that a modern myth?

Take GM foods. Lots of people in Europe are freaked out by genetically
modified foods. Americans on the other hand love it. Besides they (some
Americans) can't have enough of herbally enhanced foods and drinks such as
ginseng, echinacea, ginko biloba, St. John's wort; which they love for
their out-of- the world biological values.

These countries as we all know have mountains of butter and lakes of wine.
So food hang-up of one kind or another is understandable. But you don't
necessarily have to wallow in cornucopia to be finicky about your food. In
fact you can be famished and still detest GM foods.

Some African countries (or their leaders) despite the fact that millions
and millions of their people are under the threat of famine have made it
clear that they have qualms about GM foods (myth by diktat? ). Everyone
is, of course, entitled to their myths, but the moral dilemma must be
compelling when so many people are in need of immediate food aid.  <cut>

Some myths are even as old as the Bible itself. Snakes, because of what
the first snake did to Adam and Eve, are accorded the dubious distinction
of being the most cunning of animals in our local myths. Or bluntly put
they are considered the devil incarnate. So killing a snake in many parts
of Ethiopia is tantamount to thwarting an evil design.

Donkeys are supposed to feel no physical pain at all. So armed with that
belief, we beat the craps out of them. Too bad they are too nice tempered
not to fight back. If next time you see a stray dog with its tail in
between its legs, run; because, the myth says it is rabid and it is out to
get you. A dog that by mistake strays into a church compound has had it;
as if its presence desecrates the place.

Don't get me wrong, every myth is not bad. But what to do with the ones
that hold us back?


Bulldung Awards for Summit Hypocrites

- Jim Peron, AllAfrica Global Media. ( September 3, 2002

The contrast couldn't be more extreme. Carrying his placard the man in
front of me was clearly one of the poorest of the poor. His shoes were not
only threadbare, they were tattered, merely rags barely being held
together. He shuffled down the streets of affluent Sandton just outside
the chic conference centre and the five star hotels where the UN's World
Summit on Sustainable Development was being held.

Protesters at such events are expected. Every year affluent Europeans and
American who are full-time 'radicals' fly off to demonstrate on behalf of
the world's poor. But the poor themselves rarely participate in these
elite demonstrations.

This time it was different. Far more different than first meets the eye.
You had to read the signs these poor people were carrying to understand
how much their message contrasted with that of affluent protesters from
the Northern Hemisphere. If you stepped in front of the man with slivers
of leather attached to his feet you'd see his sign said: "Trade Not Aid."

The marchers in this protest were mainly poor, virtually all black, and
mostly women. They were street traders and farmers. Without fail everyone
had a sticker saying :"Freedom to Trade."

Farmers from India marched side by side with Zulu women wearing T-shirts
saying: "Biotechnology for Africa."

On the sideline the press and Summit delegates stood aghast. What do you
say to poor people with signs reading: "Stop Eco-Imperialism" or "Save the
Planet from Sustainable Development" or "Free Trade IS Fair Trade".

The Green Left wants to paint globalisation as rich versus the poor but
the rich are supposed to be in favour of free trade and the poor opposed
to it. But here the situation was precisely the opposite. The
anti-globalisation protesters were those who could afford to fly in on
international flights and stay at expensive hotels that local street
traders could never afford to visit.

The farmers from India were demanding the right to grow genetically
modified crops. Other speakers at the rally demanded the end of subsidies
for agriculture in developed countries while English group Oxfam called
for more subsidies for their first-world farmers.

One rally speaker was Barun Mitra of the Liberty Institute of New Delhi,
India. He announced that they wanted to give a well-deserved award to
various Green and anti-globalisation groups that he said were perpetuating
poverty in the Third World. He announced that he wanted to grant the
"Bullshit Award for Perpetuating Poverty" to the high priestess of the
environmental movement - Ms Vandana Shiva. Among the others nominated in
this very close contest were Greenpeace, Third World Network, SAFeAge and
other such groups. The mere mention of Greenpeace brought loud and
derisive remarks from the marchers.

There was general agreement among the marchers that increased
productivity, through trade and technology, not only helps in reducing
poverty, but also helps in improving the quality of environmental
resources. Clearly, increased consumption reflects economic and
environmental well-being.

Surely this must have been the environmentalists' worst nightmare. Real
poor people marching in the streets and demanding development while
opposing the eco-agenda of the Green Left.

These were people who had real concerns. They need development. They need
economic prosperity. As one of the street traders told me: "I've got
children to feed. I don't want to be a criminal." Her words brought an
immediate chorus of agreement from several other woman standing with her.

Meanwhile that day another Green group released another report demanding
less free trade, less development, and less prosperity. They specifically
said that it would be wrong to economically develop poor nations. Instead
we should impoverish wealthy nations so everyone is equal. They called for
'wealth alleviation'.

One of the authors of that report is Green guru Anita Roddick who once
gushed the sentiment, "how quickly you could fall in love with the
economics of less." The economics of less wouldn't mean much to Roddick.
She's a multimillionaire. But the people in the streets of Sandton
couldn't survive on the 'economics of less.' Less to feed their children
means the children starve.

Unlike the well-funded anti-globalisation elite these people couldn't
afford to fly around the world for conferences. They crammed into small
mini-vans just to get to the Summit while UN delegates rode by in
chauffeur-driven limousines with police escorts. The street traders
couldn't afford a press attache to contact the media on their behalf.
Their media outreach was a loudspeaker attached to the roof of a
dilapidated old truck that had to pushed through the streets.

These weren't the poverty pimps from the North: that band of elite
Westerners who are paid to lobby full-time on behalf of what they think
the poor need. These people were the poor themselves and they were
demanding something that baffles the Left.

It is called freedom.

Author: Jim Peron is a freelance researcher and writer. This article may
be republished without prior consent but with acknowledgement. The
patrons, council and members of the Free Market Foundation do not
necessarily agree with the views expressed in the article.