US launches Borlaug training programme for African scientists (12/6/2004)

FOCUS ON AFRICA "The future lies with being agrarian," said Tudge. "What I'm sure the Angolans and others see is that once you let the GM foot in the door, you've blown your agrarian base."

USDA creates Borlaug fellowships
Program named for father of Green Revolution against backdrop of nations refusing GM foods
By Robert Walgate

Even as several African nations have refused shipments of genetically modified (GM) US corn, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced a new fellowship, named for the "father of the Green Revolution," designed to bring junior and mid-ranking scientists and policymakers from African, Asian, and Latin American countries to the United States to learn from their US counterparts.

But there is "absolutely no connection" between the countries' stance toward GM foods and the Norman Borlaug International Science and Technology Fellows Program, Jocelyn Brown, the USDA's assistant deputy administrator of international cooperation and development, told The Scientist. "These fellowships address the declining numbers of researchers and policymakers in agricultural science and technology," she said. They will be "flexible enough to accept fellows from a gamut of areas," Brown said, in subjects chosen by the countries, not the USDA.

The fellowships are named after 1970 Nobel Peace Laureate Norman E. Borlaug, who developed high-yield dwarf varieties of rice and wheat that led to increased production in Asia. This year, Brown hopes some 20 scientists and policymakers from selected developing countries will win the fellowships. That number could increase to 100 in subsequent years.

Borlaug has been calling for such training for some time, according to Callestous Juma, professor of the practice of international development at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. "Until now, there just hasn't been a good program for developing-country scientists to work with colleagues in the US," Juma, who is the founding director of the African Centre for Technology Studies in Nairobi, told The Scientist.

Angola's worries that farmers will plant some grain that will then cross-pollinate and contaminate its 800 local varieties of maize are legitimate, Juma said. However, any planting would be illegal and very limited, and the issue of whether any particular GM genes should really cause concern in Angola "had not been addressed scientifically," he said.

"My view is that the concerns are to a large extent political," Juma said. "My sense is that there is general anxiety about food imports and the possibility it will undermine local production." But agriculture should be intensified, he said, as it reduces the ecological burden on the land by reducing the area needed to be cultivated for a given output. That was another of Borlaug's contributions, Juma said.

Colin Tudge, author of So Shall We Reap, said that the nations fear the loss of the agrarian economy. "In developing countries, 60% of the labor force is on the land," he told The Scientist. "Development is sometimes defined as the move away from the land. But what replaces agricultural employment?" Nothing could remotely replace these numbers, he said. "The future lies with being agrarian," said Tudge. "What I'm sure the Angolans and others see is that once you let the GM foot in the door, you've blown your agrarian base."

Angola recently joined Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Mozambique, and Lesotho in rejecting unmilled GM corn and GM soybeans, which could find their way into the seed supply. Zambia rejected all GM-derived products, such as corn oil.

David Hegwood, special counsel on biotechnology to USDA Secretary Ann M. Veneman, told The Scientist that countries refusing GM food aid "is not clearly a growing trend - but it does seem to crop up every year." The United States has now agreed to supply Angola with milled maize and sorghum, which can obviously not be planted but still contains GM varieties. But milling will increase costs and reduce the amount of food supplied, Hegwood said.

Links for this article Norman Borlaug International Science and Technology Fellows Program http://www.fas.usda.gov/info/borlaug/borlaugfellow.htm

Norman E. Borlaug http://www.nobel.se/peace/laureates/1970/

Callestous Juma http://bcsia.ksg.harvard.edu/person.cfm?item_id=258

Colin Tudge http://www.contemporarywriters.com/authors/?p=auth02D5P34091262 7360

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