African Farmers Need Water, Not GM Crops - FAO Head (11/11/2003)

African Farmers Need Water, Not GM Crops - FAO Head
Reuters, USA: November 11, 2003

WASHINGTON - Irrigation and road-building are higher priorities in improving Africa's weak agriculture sector than fostering the growth of biotechnology on the continent, the head of the Food and Agriculture Organization said yesterday.

FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf's remarks came on the same day European Union states postponed a vote that would have ended a five-year-old de facto ban on new biotech products.

The Bush administration has argued that the EU ban has squelched the acceptance of genetically-modified goods in other countries, especially in hunger-stricken Africa.

"The number one problem of agricultural development in Africa is water," Diouf told reporters following a speech to the Inter-American Development Bank. "The second problem of Africa is rural infrastructure, the rural roads," he added.

The Bush administration filed a World Trade Organization complaint last spring, alleging that the EU's moratorium on new biotech products is an illegal trade barrier costing American farmers millions of dollars in lost sales.

But in announcing the WTO action, the administration highlighted the refusal of American food aid by some African countries and linked the action to the EU ban.

"European governments should join - not hinder - the great cause of ending hunger in Africa," President Bush said in a speech last May.

Diouf said that sub-Saharan Africa, which suffers from persistent food shortages and measly foreign agriculture aid, uses only 1.6 percent of its available water supply. "I therefore think that it would make sense to try to get that water and to be able to develop" Africa's agriculture sector, Diouf said when asked about biotechnology the impact of the EU's biotech policies.

While FAO views biotechnology as one tool for improving agriculture and feeding an expanding world population, Diouf noted that many African countries are not even able to capitalize on 40-year-old plant technology, largely because of their inability to harness water resources.

"For certain countries, like the African countries, they are not using even the varieties of the Green Revolution now," Diouf said.

Story by Richard Cowan

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