US takes GMO pitch to Africa / 'GM-free Africa' (20/6/2004)


"the conference is being sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, along with our interagency colleagues, the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development...

"this event is a follow-on to the Ministerial Conference and Expo on Agricultural Science and Technology that was held in Sacramento, California, in June of last year. At that conference, we had a very successful attendance with some 120 ministerial level delegates from 117 countries. At this conference in West Africa, we're expecting some 300 to 400 participants. And we think that 16 West African countries will participate, along with the United States.

Now this conference presents a unique opportunity to senior-level policy makers from West Africa to focus on what science and technology, again, in a supportive policy environment, can do for their farmers, consumers, and their economies. It will allow participants to learn about the latest agricultural technologies" (from item 3)

1. 'GM-free Africa' web site
2.US takes GMO pitch to Africa
3.The Upcoming Ministerial Conference on Science and Technology To Be Held June 21-23 in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso

1. 'GM-free Africa' web site
from: "taynton" <[email protected]>

Thanks to African Health & Development   the new  'GM-free Africa' web site is up and running. Please visit it on http://www.gmfreeafrica.org

This is still early days but soon it will be cram packed with information and activities. Please link your web sites to it.

regards Andrew

2.US takes GMO pitch to Africa
20/06/2004 16:08  - (SA)

Ouagadougou - Delegates from 15 west African countries will gather on Monday in Burkina Faso at a summit sponsored by the United States aimed at sparking interest in genetically modified organisms as a way to boost food production on the world's poorest continent.

But whether the west Africans will join South Africa as pioneers in the use of GMOs, or will share Zambia's mistrust in the scientifically engineered strains of staple crops remains to be seen.

Some 400 representatives from the 15 members of the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) will spend three days listening to experts seek to prove how biotechnology will help farmers in the developing world feed another two billion people in 30 years.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has said that 23 out of 53 African states suffer from dire food shortages, primarily due to drought.

Biotechnology has already been used, with varying degrees of success, to breed drought-resistant crops as well as African staples such as rice and cassava that require less water.

Those advancements may interest the Sahel countries within Ecowas, who have seen fertile cropland swallowed by the advancing desert and are able to produce just 128 kilograms of grains per person per year in the world's worst harvests.

More than 200 million people are malnourished on the continent that has seen its food production eclipsed by other regions in the developing world.

Edited by Mahap Msiza

3.The Upcoming Ministerial Conference on Science and Technology

To Be Held June 21-23 in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso

Dr. J.B. Penn, Under Secretary of Agriculture for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services and U.S. Delegation Head; Ambassador Pamela Bridgewater, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of African Affairs, U.S. Dept. of State

Foreign Press Center Briefing Washington, DC June 15, 2004 4:15 P.M. EDT

Real Audio of Briefing

COLONEL MACHAMER: (in progress) -- Services and a U.S. delegation head. Also, Ambassador Pamela Bridgewater, who is the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of African Affairs.

And they're here this afternoon to talk to us about the upcoming Ministerial Conference on Science and Technology, which is a conference scheduled for later on this month in Burkina Faso. This conference is being co-hosted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Government of Burkina Faso.

Both are briefed for some opening statements, and then following that, will be glad to take your questions. Thank you.

UNDER SECRETARY PENN: Thank you, Colonel. Let me first say thanks to all of you for coming this afternoon. We're very pleased to be here and to have an opportunity to talk with you about our Ministerial Conference on harnessing science and technology to increase agricultural productivity in Africa. And as he noted, this will be held in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, June 21-23.

Also, the conference is being sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, along with our interagency colleagues, the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development. And we are joined by the Burkina Faso Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Fisheries Resources. Also, the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS; and the West African Economic and Monetary Union, WAEMU; and the permanent Interstate Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel are providing advisory support as well.

The theme of this conference is how science and technology, in a supportive policy environment, can increase agricultural productivity, spur economic growth, and help alleviate world hunger and poverty. The conference will examine the use of appropriate technologies to raise the productivity of staple food and high value crops in West Africa, with a focus in four particular areas: The first is, enhancing water conservation, water use efficiency, and water management technologies in West Africa; the second is crop biotechnology and biosafety to improve productivity, combat plant disease and enhance drought tolerance; a third is policies, regulatory frameworks and institutional capacity building to increase agricultural productivity, technology transfer and economic growth; and the fourth is partnerships to enhance the production processing and marketing of staple foods and high value crops in Africa.

Now this event is a follow-on to the Ministerial Conference and Expo on Agricultural Science and Technology that was held in Sacramento, California, in June of last year. At that conference, we had a very successful attendance with some 120 ministerial level delegates from 117 countries. At this conference in West Africa, we're expecting some 300 to 400 participants. And we think that 16 West African countries will participate, along with the United States.

Now this conference presents a unique opportunity to senior-level policy makers from West Africa to focus on what science and technology, again, in a supportive policy environment, can do for their farmers, consumers, and their economies. It will allow participants to learn about the latest agricultural technologies, as well as innovative uses of conventional technologies. It will help determine how these technologies are relevant to this particular region and what some of the priorities might be. It will offer ideas on how to develop policies, to help transfer and attract investment in agricultural technologies.

Now the ministerial will feature more than 45 speakers and panelists from around the world. These people were selected by an interagency task force. They include leaders and technical experts from developing and developed country governments, international organizations, research institutes and universities, foundations, and, of course, private industry.

Now we recognize that technology is not an end in and of itself. It's developed to serve people and their needs. And this conference is a response to the needs of hundreds of millions of people who simply don't have enough food. It's a response to farmers who are struggling to grow and have food, first to feed themselves, and then enough to earn income to feed their families.

It's a response to a world where all our aspirations for a strong global economy, growing trade, and global peace and security can be undermined by widespread hunger, poverty, economic stagnation, and lost human potential.

One of the most important steps that can be taken to reduce global hunger is to raise agricultural productivity. And we believe science and technology offer some of the most effective tools to do that. It may be better seed varieties, better planting practices, better processing techniques, or better ways of irrigating crops. Whatever the technology, it needs to be affordable, appropriate and accessible.

Now in addition, while our delegation is in Ouagadougou, we will sign a Memorandum of Understanding between the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the African Agricultural Technology Foundation. And through this Memorandum of Understanding, we will develop cooperative research programs and encourage the transfer of USDA technology to reduce hunger and poverty in sub-Saharan Africa.

Technology has the potential to help farmers around the globe produce more with less, while protecting the environment for future generations. It has the potential to help feed the hungry, improve nutrition, and elevate living standards.

So our goal for this conference is to provide a path for more people in West Africa and beyond to share in the benefits of this potential.

So with that, I will turn to Ambassador Bridgewater.

AMBASSADOR BRIDGEWATER: Thank you, Under Secretary Penn. And good evening, members of the press.

Let me just join Under Secretary Penn in thanking you for being here today, and say that we in the Department of State are delighted to highlight what we consider a very important conference on agricultural science and technology.

We at State are very grateful to the Government of Burkina Faso for joining us and agreeing to co-host this very important regional meeting. Burkina Faso has a very positive record, we think, of management and commitment to development issues. It has enjoyed very good relations with the international financial institutions and with other international partners. It is a country, as I'm sure you know, that is highly dependent on agriculture, but also challenged by the realities of its geographic location, its climate, and its limited natural resources.

Burkina Faso also deserves recognition, we think, for what it has been able to achieve in improving the economic prospects of its population.

When we look at West Africa as a region, we see diversity. We see pockets of important rich natural resources, we see economic potential, and we see that there is a lot of potential for dynamic growth. But we also see a region that has conflicts alongside with several flourishing democracies. These debilitating internal conflicts have, I think, put a very big dent in efforts to deal with issues such as poverty, resource management, and poor governance and corruption have exacerbated this problem.

We believe that economic growth, capacity building, good governance and regional security are vital to these countries realizing their full potential.

Many West African nations have made significant progress in these key areas of development. For example, I'm sure you're all familiar with the fact that 16 of the countries worldwide that have been deemed eligible to develop compacts with the Millennium Challenge Corporation, eight are African countries; and five of these, I'm happy to say, are from West Africa: Benin, Cape Verde, Ghana, Mali and Senegal. These countries will be attending this conference.

Sponsoring this very important conference is just one component of a broad-based U.S. engagement in West Africa to promote these ideals. In a region still dependent on agriculture for the livelihood of the vast majority of its citizens, this Ministerial Conference on Agricultural Science and Technology, we think, is a perfect opportunity to advance these objectives even further.

We look forward to the day when Africa can move under its own power to solve its internal conflicts peacefully, through negotiation rather than war; when Africa can feed its people; when it can fuel its own economic growth and educate its population. The United States is a committed partner in this endeavor. Thank you.

COLONEL MACHAMER: Okay. As a reminder, before asking a question, please remember to wait for the microphone and identify yourself and news organization. And we'll start with the front row.

QUESTION: Adu-Otu, Africanewscast.com. I have two questions. The first one is, could you give us an evaluation of what has transpired out of last year's ministerial conference? And number two, just like the question I asked last year, the problem with West African agriculture primarily is -- has not been technology. It has been access to points of production; that is, roads. Is there a contingent (inaudible) in the conference where this will be discussed?

UNDER SECRETARY PENN: Well, let me respond to the first part of your question. As I indicated, we had this conference in Sacramento in June of last year, and it was, as far as I know, the largest conference of its kind that's ever been held. It had broad representation from both the developed and developing world and it generated a lot of discussion and a lot of enthusiasm. And as a result of that, a lot of the delegates said that we've developed some momentum here, that we have some attention now being given -- being concentrated upon the very serious problem, so we need to somehow keep the momentum going.

And so what we have tried to do in the ensuing year is to try to harness some of that momentum and see if we couldn't get some other things underway that all contribute to this objective of making more technology available in the parts of the world where it's needed to help reduce hunger and malnutrition.

Now for our part in the U.S. Government, we have had an interagency group that has followed up the activities of that conference and have worked on trying to harness the momentum, as I said. The first -- not the first, but one of the results of that was another regional conference, which was held last month in Costa Rica for ten countries in the Central American/Caribbean area. And the focus of that conference was much like this one in West Africa. It's going to be on the common problems for that particular region, the technologies that are appropriate to that region.

And one of the key things that came out of the Costa Rican conference is that the ten countries came together and, for once, it was very evident that they were thinking of problems with a regional focus. They were all working together with a regional perspective, rather than each individual country saying, we've got problems here on our own, they're saying, how are our problems common and what can we do collectively to begin to address these. I thought that was very heartening.

At USDA, Ambassador Mattie Sharpless, who is with us this afternoon, has been coordinating other follow-up activities for us and working with our colleagues at the Department of State and in USAID. We have, just to name a few -- I don't want to bore you with a whole long list of accomplishments, but we have started a series of conversations, dialogues here in Washington with representatives from the various embassies. And we've talked about regional groupings, within regional groupings, what could be done to try to focus more resources on the problems of hunger and malnutrition and how science and technology can help.

A very tangible thing that we've done is to create the Norman Borlaug Science and Technology Fellows Program. This is a brand-new program named after, of course, the famous Nobel Laureate, where some 100 young scientists from the developing world will be brought to the U.S. each year for further training, and then will return to their home country. And we hope that in the process of that that they will form partnerships and allegiances and alliances and contacts that will help them. And we are very, very pleased to be able to sponsor that program. And it's funded with resources from the agencies that I mentioned: AID, State and USDA. And we think that that's a program that's going to make a great contribution over the longer term.

And there's several other activities like that that are tangible follow-up steps to the conference in Sacramento.

Now with respect to the second part of your conference, the second part of the conference, as I indicated, is on technology. And it's not just the new "gee-whiz" technology. As we all know, there's a lot of existing technology that is available and can be applied rather quickly. The focus is on that, mostly; for the most part on how can technology help increase food output. But at the same time, you also have to look at the bigger context, as you note, in which is a lot of these countries operate. The policy environment is first and foremost.

In my remarks, I mentioned twice, you know, within the context of good government. You've got to have a business climate, an operating environment, a regulatory environment that is conducive to allowing people to apply science and technology and do what they can do best.

And then infrastructure is a big one, to have a way to get product to market, inputs to the remote areas where farmers operate. All of these things are very crucial.

But the focus of this conference is not so much on infrastructure as it is on the technology. I mean, you can't address everything and we're trying to focus on one area and that is science and technology.

COLONEL MACHAMER: Front row again.

QUESTION: Adam Ouologuem with the African Sun Times. Could you please tell us if there is any implication of the subsidies the United States of America paid to agriculture on this event in Ouagadougou. Because you know that Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, Mali, the finest quality of cotton. But because of the subsidies you pay to your agriculture, your farmers, they have trouble of selling those.

So could they sell the cotton to buy more -- I don't know -- cereals, like millet, like rice, otherwise? How can this conference help them to overcome this?

UNDER SECRETARY PENN: Well, I think you raised an interesting point, that everything is interconnected to everything else. And we are focused here on this conference on science and technology.

But again, there is the bigger operating environment that has to be taken into account. Now trade is a big, big factor, as you just mentioned. And the cotton issue, as you noted, has become a big issue in the trade discussions.

And so we're very hopeful that in the WTO Doha development agenda, that we can address these problems. We have said repeatedly that we think that that's the place to address the question of domestic subsidies and support that not only the United States, but the European Union and Japan and other countries may provide for their farmers. And we are guardedly optimistic from what we have seen in the past few days that maybe there is now some new momentum that is developing for the WTO talks.

There were meetings held in Brazil over the weekend. We understand those related to market access, the sticking point that has been most troublesome, thus far. And so, maybe there will be some new proposals put on the table next week in Geneva for market access that will help us move forward. But we believe that the place to address the question of domestic supports and the disruptions that they bring to international marketing, the best place to do that is in the WTO negotiations.

COLONEL MACHAMER: Okay. We'll go to the Washington File.

QUESTION: Kathryn McConnell with the Washington File.

Could you describe a little bit the African Agricultural Technology Foundation and how that organization was selected for this agreement?

UNDER SECRETARY PENN: Well, let me just start, and then maybe Ambassador Bridgewater knows more about that than I. But the African Agricultural Technology Foundation is an organization that has been the development for several years. I've known of the discussions for the past three or four years that have led to its formation.

And the basic idea was, with all of this new technology and with lots of concerns about intellectual property rights and patenting (inaudible) to make sure that new and emerging technology was made available to a lot of the developing countries, the places where it was most needed. And so, the Rockefeller Foundation, and lots of other organizations and the private sector companies, have been involved in the formation of this foundation.

USDA has been aware of that development, and, of course, USDA creates a lot of new agricultural technology and we are not in the business of patenting as much of our technology as private sector companies these days. So we're always looking for ways in which we can disseminate that technology.

Now, this foundation we see as a device that will help us facilitate the dissemination of the technology. We can deal with the foundation, the foundation, in turn, can deal with all of the member countries that it represents. And so, we see this as a vehicle and these discussions have been underway for some time to create this memorandum of understanding and we are very pleased that Ambassador Bridgewater and I, representing the U.S. Government, are going to be able to sign this agreement on behalf of the government in Burkina Faso.

AMBASSADOR BRIDGEWATER: No, I think you've covered it sufficiently. Thank you.

COLONEL MACHAMER: Wait for the microphone, please. We'll go back here first.

QUESTION: El-Bashir from Sudan.

I have two short questions. Are other parts of Africa covered with similar conferences now, or maybe in the near future? Because it seems like you're focusing on West Africa. I'm sure you have good reasons. Maybe you can share that with us.

And the second question: I know that you are concerned with technology. Has a recent conference with the G-8 given you any reasons for, you know, optimism that they will get into this financing kind of thing, instead of politics, and all that?

Thank you.

UNDER SECRETARY PENN: Well, let me respond to the first question, and that is, at the California conferences, I said there was a lot of enthusiasm and excitement generated. And we said we would like to keep the momentum going from that conference. And the Minister of Agriculture in Burkina Faso was one of the first persons to say, "I want to host a conference. I would like to work with you to develop a conference to focus on the problems in the West African region."

And that's the main reason we're there is that he was very instrumental in getting his government and neighboring governments to be involved in this activity and to work with USAID and the State Department and USDA.

As to conferences in other parts of Africa that, I think, depends upon interest and enthusiasm that's shown. We've had expressions of interest and, as resources permit and as interest dictates, we'll try to do that, if those would be helpful.

I think -- and it's very interesting to note that at the G-8, there were African leaders invited to participate in the conference. And Ambassador Bridgewater and speak to that far better than I. But I thought that was a very heartening sign. And there was a discussion of hunger. And there was a discussion of science and technology.

And I think, again, when you have a focus on a major problem by the leaders of the developed and developing world, that it makes our jobs a lot easier. It helps us to be able to harness resources to focus on those problems. It helps us to bring attention to those problems. And so, I thought that was a very, very favorable sign.

AMBASSADOR BRIDGEWATER: Now, in addition to what the Under Secretary has said, we think that, in addition to the enthusiasm that the Minister of Agriculture in Burkina had, we thought that it was a good opportunity to also signal our, I think, our happiness that Burkina had been making some very important strides in its bilateral relations with its neighbors and in its role in the region. So we thought that this was an important signal and that we wanted to say that, yes, we would like to work with you on this important endeavor.

And in terms of the dialogue that we were able to have with several African heads of states during the G-8, again, it's important as we are looking at economic issues to get firsthand from African leaders, those who are seeking to find better ways to address economic development and sustainable development to have them here for that dialogue within the G-8, and we were very pleased that this took place at Sea Island.

QUESTION: Would you please tell us why (inaudible) are limited to two or three (inaudible) working at Faso, (inaudible) Ghana? And do you think this conference will help you, particularly, working at Faso to G-8 member of (inaudible)?

AMBASSADOR BRIDGEWATER: Well, first of all, I don't think that it was limited. I think that, as you are aware, heads of state are often very busy and have very competing requirements and responsibilities. So these, the heads of state that are listed as attendees, are those who were able to attend.

We've also invited the U.S. ambassadors from all 16 ECOWAS countries to attend. Some are on leave and some are doing other things, but we do expect some. We don't know exactly who will come, but we have invited them.

What was the second part of your question?

QUESTION: (Inaudible)?

AMBASSADOR BRIDGEWATER: Well, let me just say that we are, right now, in the process of a six month review. As you know, usually, we review the AGOA after a year, if a country is not eligible. But we thought that Burkina was making significant strides and we wanted to signal that we would give them a six-month review. So we are, right now, reviewing all of the information and the data about Burkina, and we are hoping to have a review within the next few weeks for possibility eligibility for this next year.

Thank you.

QUESTION: Yeah, just a small -- El-Bashir, again, from Sudan.

You said that there are eight African countries that have shown interest, and you mentioned five of them from West Africa. What are the other three?

AMBASSADOR BRIDGEWATER: The eight countries that have been selected -- and I want to read them to make sure that I don't forget any of them -- let's find that here. Well, you know that Benin, Cape Verde, Ghana, Senegal. We have Mali. We have Mozambique. We have -- let's see -- no, no, no, it is not there.


AMBASSADOR BRIDGEWATER: Benin, yes. I thought I had said Benin. Well, I guess I don't have all of them here. Algeria?

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

AMBASSADOR BRIDGEWATER: We'll have to get that for you. I thought that was here in my briefing materials, but they aren't.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)



AMBASSADOR BRIDGEWATER: I'm sure you would have known that. Sudan is not one of the MCC selectees, for the reasons I think you understand. It hasn't met the criteria, but we hope it will. We hope it will.


Okay, front row.

QUESTION: Adu-Otu. While we're talking about (inaudible), we must at the same time be talking about capital, that is access to funding for these poor West African countries. Will that be on the agenda?

UNDER SECRETARY PENN: Well, indirectly, and in a sense. Again, we have been stressing that there has to be a proper environment in which people can function. And if there is good government, if there is sound regulation, if there is good economic policies, then within that context you can apply technology, reap the benefits of that technology and then commerce and economic expansion follows, and improvement in the quality of living, improvement in diets, all of these things follow.

And investment follows. Investment is only going to flow into places where there is some safety and security and good government, all of these things that I just mentioned. So capital is attracted to places where the environment is right for business. So to that extent that we are also focusing on good government, proper economic policies, and all of these things, then we are also talking about capital.

AMBASSADOR BRIDGEWATER: Could I comment on the security element that you mentioned?


AMBASSADOR BRIDGEWATER: I think another reason that we perhaps looked at the West Africa region is that ECOWAS has taken a -- played a very important role in helping to bring peace and stability to some very war torn areas, namely, of course, in Liberia, in la Cote d'Ivoire.

So we think that enhancing the capacity of ECOWAS can help it refocus on the reasons it was founded, which is as an economic arm for development in the region. If there is peace and security, then they can look at economic development more. So this is another way to show our support for the things that are going on in terms of security in the West Africa region.

COLONEL MACHAMER: Back to the Washington File.

QUESTION: In addition to the -- to the meetings, are there going to be other events, such as bilateral meetings, or maybe trips, to actually have people observe some successful technology?

AMBASSADOR BRIDGEWATER: Well, in terms of bilaterals, I've certainly asked for bilaterals with all of the heads of state that will be attending. That is another reason that I am going to make sure that we are able to engage with these leaders. And I believe I've seen in the program that there will be field trips to various agricultural programs in Burkina, and I will let the Under Secretary comment on those.

UNDER SECRETARY PENN: Well, that's exactly true. We're going to have bilaterals with everybody who is there, I mean, with all of the participants, and we're going to have some local lateral sessions, as well. So we want to take the opportunity for being there to talk about science and technology, to also talk about other things that we have on our various agendas.

There are opportunities for some field trips. And lots of us who are going are going a long distance and want to take advantage of the opportunity of being there to visit some of the places that could be candidates for a class of technology project, and to see successful projects that are already underway.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) Are you going to visit my land, the (inaudible) land? It's not far and we are very good farmers.

UNDER SECRETARY PENN: Is that an invitation?

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) This is what the people do there.

UNDER SECRETARY PENN: I'd love to. I don't think I've known of any plans to do that, but it sounds great.

COLONEL MACHAMER: Anybody else? Anymore?

QUESTION: Do we have time?


QUESTION: There are some countries in Africa that have shown some kind of resistance for the new crops for religious reasons, for one reason or another. Are you making any breakthrough there, or still there are some taboos put by some government that they are not going to, you know, get into technology?

UNDER SECRETARY PENN: I think that's a good question. And, you know, it's not our intent, I mean, it's not our purpose to try to force our technology on anybody. I mean, the purpose of this -- of this conference is to discuss a wide range of technologies: water, water technology, all of these things are going to be a big focal point, not just biotechnology.

But I am seeing some, what is to me, some very positive signs that there is much more acceptance of a lot of the new technologies. There is indigenous research in biotech crops in some African countries. There are some crops that are beginning to be produced commercially.

So I'm seeing that there is a growing acceptance of a lot of these new technologies. And so, I think that's a very positive sign.


Well, then I'd like to thank our briefers for taking the time to be with us today, and also thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for also being here.



Go to a Print friendly Page

Email this Article to a Friend

Back to the Archive